He wakes up in nothing. Or perhaps it is not really waking up at all, for waking up implies that he has been sleeping or unconscious, and he feels as if he has been aware all this time. He remembers fragments—that the explosion from the staff feels like being crushed, like drowning, like being ripped to pieces, like being burned alive—but there is little else.
The more accurate thing to say, then, is that he begins to become aware he is in nothing—or a part of it, he thinks, because he finds it difficult to separate himself from the vastness of—wherever he is.
He doesn’t even have a body, which should horrify him, but somehow it doesn’t. In fact, he’s not quite sure who he is. It’s still a little off-putting though, but not as much as the voice he’s hearing.
The name sends a flurry of images, a confusing string of ties that gives some resemblance of a distant being. Among them, the flicker of a girl with a fierce expression and a grinning Egyptian boy strikes him as particularly significant.
Oh dear, says the voice, and it sounds amused.
I am called Nathaniel?
The voice doesn’t answer for some time, but there is no need, not in this single flow of consciousness. The answer comes in simple silence.
It is Nathaniel, but only if you wish it to be.
Wishing, he thinks, is a rather out of place feeling in this world. He still wishes though, because the need is there, and abruptly the name takes him, bringing all that he has known and once was. If he had a stomach to feel sick with, he would have. Since this isn’t the case, Nathaniel makes an effort to feel distinctively upset.
He asks, how?
After I was dismissed, I took you with me.
The scattering of light stills for a moment as Nathaniel struggles to comprehend.
You did a hell of a good job trying to be. Look who’s the incompetent one now. Can’t even die properly.
There is a definite hint of laughter in the voice’s tone, though none of it malicious. It annoys Nathaniel in a very familiar way.
The name starts up another series of flashing images, which he ignores. He’s busy trying to get his bearings now that he has a point of reference, in a way. He cannot see anything tangible, and it’s a little disorienting, but he supposes sharing a body with Bartimaeus has given him a bit of insight and prepared him, somehow.
Still, he wonders if there are traces of Bartimaeus in him—a very unpleasant thought, really.
Well, it’s not like you’re the nicest bloke either.
The trouble, Nathaniel later finds, is that he is merely filling a role based on memories of a past life. He doesn’t feel emotions so much as remember them, and every moment he spends in the Other Place, the further he slips away from what he once was.
But if he was truly Nathaniel, he knows that he would want to go back. Nathaniel can’t stay here forever, or else—
--he would be lost.
And, deep down, Nathaniel knows that he cannot go back. His body had been destroyed when the staff broke, so even if Bartimaeus could dismiss him, he would have no place to return to.
Sometimes, he talks to Bartimaeus, or to himself. There are moments when he forgets which.
I will become a demon, he realizes with sudden clarity. The mention of demon stings him, bringing on a torrent of memories that makes him ache and recoil. For the most part, Nathaniel senses fear—this abstract little emotion—and wrestles with the strange dichotomy of wanting to keep being Nathaniel, and to just let go and forget.
Do you know how spirits are born? They aren’t, you know. It is the magicians who draw us out in pieces, call out and bind us to a name. In here, our home, we are all one and the same.
But there is no one to call for me, is there?
Time is a fickle concept in the Other World, but eventually he finds that it is an effort to bring himself to care.
It’s an effort to keep being Nathaniel.
He’s fading, and Bartimaeus knows it.
Perhaps it is better this way.
Or perhaps you can say hello to Kitty yourself.
Another name, another string of images. He takes them in blankly.
And then he thinks of nothing at all.
The next time Nathaniel wakes up, he feels as if he is suffocating. He feels his essence compress into a single body and screams, angry—so angry—to be pulled from the Other Place. He thrashes and fights at first, but then goes very still when he catches a familiar glow from the corner of his eye.
There is a young woman, her face ragged on the first plane of sight, but very beautiful throughout the others. She stands in a pentangle opposite of him, hands clenched at her sides.
“God, Nathaniel. Can’t you do anything right?” she says, exasperated, and her expression is just as fierce as he remembers it being. She takes a step forward with her hand outstretched.
And it was really stupid of her to walk from of the pentangle like that, Nathaniel thinks. Being a djinn of the fourth level, he can kill her easily with just a wave of his hand—a hand that he does not consciously remember creating—and he abruptly wishes that he might have chosen a more impressive form instead of a thin, wiry boy with black hair and sullen eyes.
He could change, he supposes, but that would have not been Nathaniel.
“Hello, Kitty,” he laughs, just as promised, and steps out of the pentangle to take her hand.