Hi all. Snapshots from my personal headcanon for Bartimaeus post Ptolemy's Gate. Obvious spoiler is obvious. The only character I used from the series was Bartimaeus himself. Warning for casual treatment of murder.
Disclaimer- I wish.
"Why don't you ever change form?"
The magician summoning me was little better than a child- tall, gangly, still curious and naive of eye. I stared back at her with five thousand years of wisdom in mine.
"Everyone else- their demons flicker through forms like nothing I've ever seen. Not you, though- you change clothes every once in a while, but the face remains the same."
I was tired. This was still London, a London only just recovering from the fall of Nouda. It just about limped along after the loss of its colonies.
I didn't want to be there.
(I didn't want to be on Earth, period. I enjoyed the reputation gained by my exploits, sure, but the gaining of said reputation is a dreary, troublesome experience that only becomes great in hindsight.
To be summoned in London, so soon after... if I had to be summoned at all, I would rather it were anywhere else.)
My mistress was tall, slim, with blonde curls falling over her shoulders. She was barely fifteen, but positively loomed over the short boy I imitated around her. She had just asked one of the wisest questions a magician could ever wonder.
Why do we choose our forms? What makes one guise better than the other?
Why do I stick to only one guise in her presence?
I grinned at her irrepressibly. "You seem like a learned, worldly sort of girl," I complimented her. She blushed and fidgeted with her hands.
(Lies, every word.)
"I could come up with any number of forms," I continued. "Powerful, fearsome guises you've never seen the like of."
She was leaning closer. Just a little further, and her long hair would break the confines of her pentacle...
"But I keep to this one... you want to know why?" I leant forwards, about to spill a secret. I didn't say anything clichéd; 'come closer' would only put her guard back up.
(Or maybe not; see 'naive' above.)
She leant forwards; her hair... We both felt the magic bonds break, and she backpedalled hastily for all the good it would do.
I stepped free and stood over her. Her breath was coming in quick pants. She was scared, so scared, and I revelled in it.
She could see the merriment clear on my face, and it scared her more.
"I choose this form, darling, because this form is the only one that you'd truly fear." I crouched down to whisper into her ear. She didn't move; she was frozen in place. "You are all so scared of what you don't understand- so should you be; you enslave and lord over us, bind us to do your bidding with every precaution under the sun. But you fear that which you can understand- a human face twisted in hatred, willing to do anything for his revenge- a human threatening you, the torment and suspense because you can picture it."
I backed away and let only my voice go quiet.
"Only little girls are scared of monsters. But everybody fears what humans can do."
(Cleverly worded lies, of course. But if I couldn't admit the true reason to myself, I wasn't going to admit it to someone else, now was I?)
I raised Ptolemy's eyebrow and nodded at the now useless pentacles. "So are you going to dismiss me, before I do something... terrible?"
Her face was ashen, but she gathered herself enough to spit out a dismissal. I saluted her as I went, and let my smile disappear last.
My terrible, terrible smile.
"-and I charge you, Bartimaeus, with the guarding of-"
There was silence as this new master finally looked up. He took in my form for the first time, and went a very unattractive shade of puce.
(It wasn't like the pink skin was an improvement. But there's hideous, and there's repulsive. This was the latter.)
"How dare you!" He hissed. "How dare you stand there and smirk at me with that face, that form? John Mandrake was one of the greatest magicians who ever lived, and you mock me and him by doing so!"
He took a deep breath, ready to rant some more, but I beat him to it.
"Dismiss me, then."
He choked on his air. "What?"
I shrugged casually. "I'm not changing forms. Unless you can bear to see your hallowed icon trembling with agony over the Stripples, or even the Rack, you can only live with it or dismiss me." I very obviously stared at his rotund, fleshy mass. "And if you keep up your indignation, you're going to have a heart attack. I'm going back to the Other Place one way or another, so dismiss me."
I was impressed with myself. Even I normally need longer to make a person that irate. Words seemed to fail him; he stood there gaping like a fish. I adjusted my coat sleeves
(How did he live with them? They're itchy.)
and waited him out.
"This won't work," he finally muttered. "Can't have you going out like that, not at all," and he puffed himself up for the dismissal.
As I felt my essence drift away, I left him one helpful piece of advice. "You shouldn't let us get to you so easily, you know? Don't give your weaknesses away so quickly."
The last syllable was a near incoherent roar, but it did the job well enough. With a jaunty wave, I disappeared.
As masters went, this one was okay. He was French, but I didn't hold that against him like other spirits would.
(It made me shudder to think about; spirits going native enough to embrace human prejudices. Honestly, where's the pride in their own essence?)
"I need you with me for the party, Bartimaeus, so look sharp- oh, that will never do!" He cried in dismay at seeing my white suit against bronze skin.
I cocked my head, honestly baffled by my master's sense of fashion. "What's wrong with this?" I asked.
He shook his head at me fondly. "You barely look fourteen in that guise, Bartimaeus. Maybe one a bit older?"
I froze, but nodded in acquiescence. Like I said, he wasn't so bad, really. It got him a lot of leeway on pettier requests.
I let my form change, and adjusted the suit accordingly. Sharp, black, all lines and edges. One splash of colour and a hint of lace.
My master grinned before pausing, confusion emerging. "That face... where have I seen that face before?" He asked himself the question.
I didn't enlighten him. I never spoke of that time; few humans now realise it was me involved with it all.
(Defeating Nouda would have been wonderful for my reputation, but... I wanted no part of it. I betrayed some powerful spirits by bringing Nouda down, and that was the only reason I accepted how miserable I felt over the whole escapade.)
"That's John Mandrake, isn't it?" My master asked, eyes shining with wonder. "Did you know him? He's such a fascinating historical figure to study, can you tell me anything about-"
I cut him off rudely. I suddenly wasn't so fond of this master anymore.
"I saw this form in London. It was a statue."
(Not a lie, for once. They had made a statue. John Mandrake would feel it was appropriately grandiose and awe-striking for his majesty. Nathaniel probably would have grimaced, and ducked his head.)
For once, it seemed the magician could read me as easily as I him. "A shame, then," he said softly, grin fading. "I don't think I need you after all, Bartimaeus... perhaps Rosief will suit better..."
He left the room. I was dismissed later that night.
(I didn't like him, but he wasn't such a bad sort, really.)
The magician was old. White hair, skeletal.
(She made me think of Jessica Whitwell.)
(She reminded me of nobody of importance.)
"I expected something more dramatic," she said wryly, gesturing to the desk covered in papers. "I've covered all of your exploits, Bartimaeus, and the one thing they all have in common is your... flamboyant tastes."
I felt an itch rise in my essence. This wouldn't do; it was meant to be the other way around.
"So terribly sorry to disappoint," I batted my eyelashes and inwardly laughed at the expression that must be on his face. It was one he certainly never made in life. "But if you could let me be on my way, I'm sure you'll find somebody else..."
"That won't do," she said sharply. "I'm compiling biographies of the older spirits, the ones who have actually lived through ancient times. Your name comes up often enough to warrant summoning you."
I sighed, rubbed at the buzz cut this guise sported, and sat down in the pentacle. "What do you want to know?"
She went directly for the kill. "Up to four centuries ago, reports call you a brash, arrogant, infuriating excuse for a spirit who nonetheless serves to the letter of your orders with great flair and mockery."
I nodded. It sounded about right, but four centuries ago?
(Had it been only that long? It should have been more.)
"Then there are reports of you being in London, but nobody can agree who it was that summoned you. With the upheaval that took place, records were lost." Her shrewd eyes gazed at me- she knew I had something to do with it, and probably a good idea who it was had bound me. But she didn't ask, and I wasn't telling.
"Since then, you've been summoned by only a handful of people, but of course, everyone had to document their summoning, what with the new laws being passed. And we have this."
She held a sheet of paper aloft, and began to read from it.
"He is by far the scariest demon I've ever summoned, but he didn't kill me when he could have. And I think that scares me more." She looked up at him. "Angelica Fields, 1996."
She moved her thumb down the page and started the next paragraph. "I summoned him for mere minutes, but never again! He is the most infuriating wretch I've ever called! Brian Humphrey, 2052."
The third paragraph. "He was in my service for two months, during which I found him to be pleasant enough. Quick, diligent and understanding of subtly." Her eyes gleamed at me. "His last comment intrigues me the most," she admitted, "It's the main reason I called you, if I'm honest. He shows an understanding of humans beyond the greatest psychologists of all time.
"Philippe Monsoir, 2276. He even hypothesised a reason behind your 'humanity'."
The air quotes were horrendously obvious. I wanted to escape, but there was no break in her lines that I could exploit, and I was beyond involved planning simply by listening to her words.
"The djinni Bartimaeus used only two forms in my presence- one of a young adult, Arabic, and once, briefly, that of John Mandrake of London. I suspect the first form was also a former master, and draw my own conclusions from this fact."
I winced. I couldn't help it.
(I was enraged; how dare she presume to know so much? But with rage came the reasons for my anger; sorrow. Two masters who were the best I'd ever known, both of who saved me when they didn't have to.
I knew I remembered Nathaniel with rose-tinted glasses. But his final act overshadowed anything else I might have once hated him for. And Ptolemy- he needed no explanation.)
"You have many names," the old crone continued. "Did you know you've gained another? Faust's Compendium now records you as the Djinni With Two Faces, among other things. But it took more legwork than I expected to find out who those faces were."
She held up an old photograph and an artist's sketch. One was undeniably Nathaniel, the other a good impression of my Egyptian master.
"They're as well known as you ever were, now," she said. "Everyone who's heard of Bartimaeus has heard of John Mandrake of London and Ptolemy of Alexandria." She grinned at me, skin drawn back over her skull.
"The Djinni With Two Faces, his human loves. Your records state how you despise your enslavement and your masters, but you fell in love with them regardless."
She pulled out a cloth and started rubbing at the paint demarking her pentacle.
"Are you senile as well as arrogant, crone?" I asked, finally finding my voice.
"You won't hurt me," she said with certainty. "I've offered you no violence. There is nothing for the past five centuries in your records to suggest you would attack me unprovoked."
I actively hated this woman.
The bonds broke and I leapt across the room. I took her throat in one long fingered hand and squeezed roughly.
"You think you didn't provoke me?" I hissed, watching her face turn blue. "You dig up my history, state it all so plainly, and you think you haven't provoked me?"
"You- miss- them," she coughed out. As though burned, I threw her away from me. She gasped on impact with the wall and crumpled to the floor in a heap.
She spluttered and held her aching throat. "And you mourn them," she whispered hoarsely.
I could tell by the sounds she was making that I'd damaged something irreparable in her body. Sure enough, her coughs starting producing blood.
"You killed me- for a memory," she spat out. "How emotional."
I gazed down at her dispassionately. "I killed you because I wanted to," I said.
Her last words were quiet, but I picked them up easily.
Her death broke my tethers, and I disappeared gratefully.
"Your charge, Bartimaeus, is to listen," said the girl in the other pentacle.
I thought Nathaniel's face would suit this better, so shifted and raised an aristocratic eyebrow at the girl. "I'm not sure I'm up to such an onerous task, mistress," I drawled. Nathaniel had a good voice for drawling.
Her eyes widened as I changed from Ptolemy to my more recent master, but she regained her composure admirably.
"The date is 2385," she stated. "You were summoned to this city seven years ago by an elderly woman, who you then killed after a short conversation."
I blinked, confused. "How do you know this?"
She smiled without humour. "We rely on technology to record, Bartimaeus, not first-hand recollection."
I felt horror grow in my essence. Her features took on a dark cast.
"I've got the transcript and written an in depth analysis of that conversation. It's the final part of that elderly woman's work, your biography," she sounded scathing, and honestly, I agreed. What kind of djinni warranted a biography?
"It makes a beautifully classic tale, you realise. The djinni who fell in love." Her smile was sinister. "You're famous, Djinni With Two Faces. I made it my personal mission to make sure of this."
(I was begrudgingly impressed. Fame was not a djinni's best friend- it meant more time being summoned, and less at home. It was a creative- and here my thoughts stuttered. Because I'd think it was revenge, but I've never seen this girl in my life. Revenge for what?)
And still she spoke. "My personal mission was to finish my grandmother's work, and improve it. She would have given you an unbiased record to laud from the rooftops. I," she held up a tablet triumphantly. I assumed it contained the collected works of Old Crone et al., "will ruin you."
I had nothing to say.
(There was nothing I could say.)
"Djinni With Two Faces," she said, moving to the dismissal, "I hope you enjoy your life."
I scoffed to cover my disquiet. "Don't worry- I will."
On the last syllable, I was dismissed.
(We had nothing more to say to each other.)
"Djinni With Two Faces! Your charge is to fall in love with me!"
Nathanial's face blinked. "You what?"
She looked like a child, in a pink dress and matching shoes. It seemed they started younger and younger every time I was summoned. Either that, or she was some kind of prodigy.
But still- "You what?"
"Bartimaeus, Rekhyt, Necho, N'Gorso I Name you! And I charge you to be devoted to me!"
(Some kind of stupid, human prodigy.)
Unbidden, my mind was already making comparisons- she had Nathaniel's brash confidence, Ptolemy's softness of face, and I might go so far as to say Monsoir's (flawed) sense of style.
None of this put together made her an endearing specimen of humanity.
"Look-" I tried to interrupt her declarations.
"You will be my faithful slave-"
She shut up. Life was being more merciful than usual. I tried for disbelief first. "You think you can command me to fall in love with you?"
"It's been done before," she said mulishly, in the tone of a child who knows they're wrong. Then she gathered herself up and smoothed down her skirts. "Besides, Daddy said I could. His exact words, 'who wouldn't fall in love with you?'" She nodded once as though that was the end of it.
I was still hung up on the 'been done before bit'. I could care less about a father's falsities. "Done before?" I offered, finally looking around the room to search out any obvious reasons for the many flaws in her sanity.
Every surface was some shade of pink.
(I had to double check the handkerchief, at this point. Other Place forbid I matched anything in this room.)
"Ptolemy and John Mandrake both." She squared her shoulders to add to her unimpressive four feet of skin, bones and pink. "They commanded you. You fell in love. And now I will command you, and-"
I couldn't take this anymore. "You think love is something that can be commanded on a whim?" I didn't know what I wanted to say until the words were spilling out.
"But-" Her eyes were starting to tear up, and I again thought, so young and so human; it pained me to talk to her. She started saying something else, but I looked away and spoke over her.
"Love is terrifying. It's terrible, and tragic, and every negative description under the sun. It's hope, and faith; it's something to believe in even when you can't believe in anything else. It's something that comes from the essence, the soul if you so believe, and yet you think you can command it so easily?" My words proved me foolish.
(I might dare to say, human. You lot bring out the worst in me.)
I compounded the idiocy with my parting blow.
"You can't prove yourself worthy of love. You can only hope, and pray, and wish that it's returned."
I didn't realise I was being dismissed until the third recital wrenched at my essence. I left the girl crying without knowing if she ever understood the point I was trying to make.
(an extract from 'Bartimaeus', subtitled 'The Djinni with a Thousand Names and Two Faces')
He is the epitome of his elements- he is the free spirit of air; give him no leeway lest he exploit it. And yet he is the embodiment of fire- if you give him something to believe in...
... if you give him something to believe in, he will challenge the world for you.
He will change the world for you.
"Your order is to teach, Bartimaeus."
I raised an eyebrow.
(I had centuries of lessons that I could impart, but very little that humans could learn from.)
(Or so I thought.)
I plastered a fake smile on Ptolemy's face and buffed his nails unconcernedly. "I have nothing that you would wish to learn."
The magician looked at me, puzzled. "Have you really not noticed?"
I glanced around the room. Nothing glaringly out of place. "Noticed?"
He started laughing, a hollow, disbelieving laugh that echoed off the shiny walls. "How can you not know, Djinni With Two Faces?"
That name again.
(I flinched. Noticeably, to my shame.)
"That, right there!" He pointed at me. "I want you to teach us humanity."
I laughed then myself, until I realised he was still looking at me, completely serious. "I am not human," I said, slowly and carefully. "I am Bartimaeus, Sakhr al-Djinni, the Serpent of the Silver Plumes! I am Necho, Rekhyt and N'Gorso the Mighty, a being of fire and air and unfathomable power!"
"And you are the Djinni With Two Faces," the magician added.
I stopped cold.
(Names personify us. Names have power. Names mould us every moment we exist in the human world.
And somehow, through centuries and civilisations, I had become the Djinni With Two Faces. With a sense of foreboding, I thought this would be the way I would evermore be remembered.
As spirits go, I am old. I have shared millennia of experiences with the Other Place, and records of my exploits on Earth go back at least six thousand years.
Old spirits know of the inevitability of time. I had the feeling that the old crone and her granddaughter were laughing at me beyond the grave. Their mission had succeeded beyond all expectation: to all intents, purposes and humans, I am the Djinni With Two Faces.)
(And as time marches on, I decided to accept that.)
"I am the Djinni With Two Faces," I agreed heavily. The magician stared at me with a hint of a smile on his face. "What is it you would learn?"
Another summons. I couldn't believe how popular I was getting.
(I could, thanks to a certain biography I still hadn't managed to get my hands on, but still. I'd accepted a lot of things in my old age. Popularity would not be one of them.
My reputation among spirits was now in tatters. I had gone human, apparently, which is worse than going native.
My reputation among magicians had never been higher. Ironic, no?)
He was little more than a child. I glanced around the room quickly, and saw English writing on the desk. Brilliant.
He opened his mouth, but I got there first. I have a reputation to keep, after all.
"I am Bartimaeus of Uruk, Carnak and Prague! I am the Serpent of the Silver Plumes, N'Gorso the Mighty, Sakhr al-Djinni!"
I leaned closer to the edge of my pentacle, and the boy squeaked.
"I am the Djinni With Two Faces," I stated blandly, as though this latest moniker was no matter to me.
(It was the one I held deepest in my essence.)
"What work do you have for me?"