Long time no write! So i 3 this series but (DISCLAIMER) I don't own it: Jonathan Stroudd does. So anyway, hope you enjoy Chapter 1. The ending was a little rushed (it was late at night) so if you have any suggestions, please feel free to PM me about it.
As usual, R&R!
It wasn't the smell of smog, sweat, and urine (both human and animal) that made Nathaniel leave Boston. Nor was it the winding, twisty, maze-like streets. Not the perpetually frozen traffic, or the noises the vehicles made. Or the hot, humid, mucky summers. Or the dry, freezing winters that made the place look like a wasteland rather than a wonderland. No, it wasn't any of that. It was the memories those things brought to mind. Memories of his past, the past he had tried to forget.
That was the good thing about the countryside: the folk weren't nosy. Deciding that physical labor would help him take his mind off of what he had left behind, he had taken a job as a lumberjack. His employer hadn't asked any questions: not who he was, not where he came from, not why he wanted the job. Just his name. And, of course, he told the man, "I'm Nathaniel." For he was Nathaniel. He had left the pompous and narcissistic Mr. John Mandrake behind in London.
Slowly but surely, because of his work, he became more muscular. His pale skin had tanned into an olive brown from the sunlight. As was the fashion, he grew his hair till the bottom of his neck.
He had also lost his accent quite quickly. Within a year, he was speaking like a native-born American.
The morning of his twenty-third birthday (which also happened to be the fifth anniversary of his arrival in America), Nathaniel was sitting on a cliff by the sea. On his days off he liked to come here and think. Sometimes, in this tranquil solitude, he would try and remember what had happened that fateful day, so long ago, so far away ...
Nathaniel finished whispering the words of the Dismissal. Good-bye, my friend, he thought as Bartimaeus left the world. Just before the djinni left, though, Nathaniel thought he heard him say, "Just like Ptolemy." Nat smiled.
And then all hell broke loose. The Staff's knotted and scarred wood shattered into millions of little pieces. The force of the explosion sent Nathaniel careening backwards, and he cracked his head on the glass. His vision swam and black spots danced in front of his eyes, but he managed to remain conscious. Through his lenses, he could see the first three of the seven planes. And on all of them, there was a huge flaming ball of golden fire erupting where he had been standing.
Quentin Makepeace's body had been destroyed by the flame, and Nouda stood in all his glory, tentacles and fangs and suckers dripping with a silvery fluid - his essence.
"Brother," grunted the beast. "You have hurt me." Deep, rich laughter that made Nathaniel think of melted chocolate seemed to come from the golden inferno. Then the flame spoke in the same voice.
"Brother? You renounced all ties to my order when you tried to destroy al-Ruqs. Now go. Be uncreated. I send you to al-Zallam." Nouda emitted an unearthly shriek. There was a flash of white and Nouda disappeared.
Nathaniel gaped. Whatever the fire was, it was a creature of immense power: destroying a being like Nouda would have taken a huge amount of energy.
Suddenly, the golden flame spoke again.
"Mortal," it thundered, obviously addressing Nathaniel. "What is your name?"
"Na ... Natha ... Nathaniel," he managed to mumble. But the Being seemed to have heard him.
"Nathaniel." The Being seemed to be rolling the name around on its tongue. If it had had one, of course.
"Nathaniel. You have saved me from the eternal confinement within that wooden prison. My brother, too, was freed from his prison by a mortal such as you. But where are my manners? You shall be able to view me on the first plane as a physical form. The flame began to shift and writhe.
Suddenly, it burst open, revealing the Being's physical form. Standing at over ten feet in height and with a chiseled musculature to boot, the Being was the epitome of masculine perfection. Nathaniel examined the body, blushing as his eyes passed the more sensitive parts.
There were some rather blatant issues with the form, though. First of all, it had six fingers instead of five on each hand. Second, its cheekbones were too high, its pupils were horizontal, and its chin looked like it could have cut through diamond like a knife through butter.
Most conspicuous of all, though, were the wings. Extending at least twelve feet from either side of the Being's body, the wings attached to the body at its shoulder blades. They looked silky smooth and soft, but Nathaniel practically hear the thrum of power coming from them. In fact, Nathaniel could see the planes shivering and fluctuating from the Being's mere presence.
Then it spoke again.
"I am Raziel of the Golden Wings, brother to Uraziel of the Silver Wings, leaders of the Council of Seven, rulers of al-Ruqs, the Cosmic Dance. As thanks for rescuing me, I shall send you from this hellish place. Thank you, Nathaniel. Fare thee well." The last thing Nathaniel saw was a dancing golden flame that seemed to be within behind his eyes.
And then the world went black.
Nathaniel let out an exasperated sigh and stood up. Yawning, he stretched, and started back through the woods towards Richardston, the town closest to the seashore. Being a port town, it had a healthy stream of travelers and news. Its open marketplace saw secrets traded as well as goods, and Nathaniel knew there was no place better to go for news of London. Besides, he was hungry, not having eaten breakfast yet.
The market hubbub was especially loud today; Nathaniel could hear it from a mile off. Fifteen minutes later, as his work boots began to clomp against cobblestone instead of the soft, compost-filled soil of the woods.
Vendors shouted out their goods over the din of customers talking, walking, laughing, and making a whole range of other noises. Nathaniel made a beeline for the coffee shop. Eddie's Coffee House, est. 1902, was Richardston's best coffee house. It was also Richardston's only coffee house.
Eddie, the owner of the shop, knew Nathaniel very well, as he came there for breakfast every morning. They were quite close friends, and Eddie often gave Nathaniel free coffee.
As Nathaniel walked in that morning, something seemed off. Eddie was nowhere to be seen, and there were no customers, which was strange given the time of day. Nathaniel walked over to the counter and hopped over. It was then that he noticed that the familiar gurgling of the coffee machines was missing as well.
Suddenly, there was a clicking noise behind him, the sound a door makes when someone locks it. In one fluid movement, Nathaniel pivoted on his right heel, springing off the ground with his right foot, and leaped back over the counter, landing in a stance that would allow him the best chance of defense from a surprise attack, and-
And stopped in his tracks. There, just in front of the door, was a red box big enough to hold ten people. From the left side protruded a metal handle.
All of a sudden, the handle began to rotate, and a familiar tune began to play.
"All around the cobbler's bench,
the monkey chased the weasel.
The monkey thought 'twas all in good sport,
Pop! goes the weasel!"
The instant the song finished, the handle fell out and the box unfolded onto the ground. Standing inside were Eddie the shop owner, eight of Nathaniel's coworkers (Júan, Marcus, Alec, Peter, Aidan, Teddy, and Carl), and something completely unexpected - a strange but exceedingly beautiful woman, whom he'd never seen before in his life.
"Happy Birthday!" chorused Eddie and the boys. Eddie was the first out of the box, walking up to Nathaniel and giving him a huge slap on the back.
"See? We've even brought you a gift! A very special one," winked Eddie. Nathaniel groaned, but smiled in spite of himself. Then he thought of ... her, and his smile instantly dissipated.
"Turn that frown upside down, Nat!" said Júan. He gestured to the lady. "This here's Kareena. We found her on the street and bribed her into coming here." Júan leaned in towards Nat and whispered conspiratorially in his ear. "She wouldn't have come if I hadn't-" he winked, "persuaded her." Nat rolled his eyes.
Then, turning away from Júan, he walked up to Kareena. There was something strange about her, something ... off. But Nat couldn't place it.
"Hey," he said nonchalantly.
Kareena responded disdainfully, "You're ... friends ... are very ... rustic." Nathaniel laughed while analyzing her body closely. Not in the way a handsome twenty-three-year-old bachelor interested in sex would be. He was checking for any bodily oddities that no human would have.
Most spirits who were commonly summoned generally pulled of their disguises perfectly. A flawless human guise signified a mid-level spirit, such as a djinn or a low-level afrit. Higher entities, like powerful afrits, marids, and beings such as Nouda, Ramuthra, and Raziel, were even less commonly summoned, and so their human forms were slightly less ... well, human (though most higher beings generally did not deign to assume a human shape).
Nathaniel's knowledge of spirits had stayed with him only because of some encounters over his five years in America with rogue demons, mostly afrits.
There were no errors in her form. Sighing at the end of his laugh, he opened his eyes to all seven planes. Normally, he would have only been able to see the first plane, but because of his communion with a certain djinn, some of the djinn's abilities had stayed with him. Sadly, shape-changing was not one of these.
On all of the planes, Kareena was a very sexy woman. Except for the seventh, of course. On the seventh plane, her aura close to blinded Nat. His guess was a eighth- or ninth-level marid.
The moment Nathaniel screamed, "Scatter!", Kareena released a blast of green fire from her palm. Nat had dropped to the floor as he had shouted, and so he was not hit, but he heard the counter explode behind him.
Nat swung his right leg around, intending to take Kareena's legs out from under her. But just as he was about to connect with her leg, her legs vanished. Nathaniel, still moving with the momentum of his spin, lost his balance and fell on his face. Head spinning, he stood up and saw what had been Kareena floating above the ruined counter. Undoubtably a marid, the spirit had changed form into a wisp of smoke.
Suddenly, the smoke formed into a huge emerald serpent, its forked tongue glistening and its eyes searching. Nathaniel suppressed the urge to shout at Eddie when he saw him quietly slip out from around the wreckage and sidle over to Nathaniel. He was three meters away when he stepped on something sharp. It may have been a nail from the counter, or a coat-hanger hook. Whatever it was, though, it pierced through the sole of Eddie's right boot.
Involuntarily, he cursed. Quick as lightning, the snake struck. Eddie was gone in the blink of an eye, and the serpent's tongue was running over the outside of its mouth. Then it changed form again, reverting back to Kareena's body.
"Come, ssssstupid boy," the marid hissed, still retaining its serpentine speech, "let me show you the dessssstruction of your village." And they were suddenly transported onto Hangman's Hill, the half-mile tall mound a quarter-mile from the city.
As Nathaniel watched, the marid raised its hands and clapped once. The town suddenly seemed to be drawn towards its center, as if there was some kind of black hole in the middle of the town.
Nat saw the market being dragged into the hole in the earth, and the Town Hall, and his apartment, and finally, after the entire interior of the city was swallowed, the earth had its desert: the town walls vanished underground.
And Nathaniel passed out.
Click the little blue button! You know you want to! R&R!