It relaxed Nick. He smiled at them, and the other man stepped back as well. Then Nick let Jamie pull him out of the bar.
He shook off Jamie’s restraining grasp and stepped away from him as soon as they were outside.
“An antiques fair,” he repeated, almost amused.
“Sometimes I panic,” Jamie told him.
“I’ve noticed that.”
They kept walking, and Nick felt his brief moment of cheer fading with every step. They had completed a circuit around Salisbury and ended up where they had begun. There had been no sign of magic from one end of the city to the other.
Nick’s gloomy thoughts were interrupted by Jamie, sounding hesitant. “That was — a little scary.”
“Was it?” Nick asked.
“Oh, right,” said Jamie. “Mae told me. Apparently you don’t get scared.”
“No,” Nick said. “I don’t. I don’t waste my time with useless fussing around, feeling scared or anxious or what the hell it is you people do. You two may be so complicated you’re falling over the knots you’ve made of yourselves, but I’m very simple.”
Jamie slanted a shy glance over at him. “No, you’re not.”
“Fine,” said Nick. “I’m an international man of mystery. Don’t fall for me. I’ll only break your heart.”
“Don’t worry,” Jamie murmured.
Nick almost liked him for that, even if he and his sister had apparently declared every day Make Nick Talk About His Feelings Day.
“I’m — I don’t mean to pester you,” Jamie offered after a moment. “I know you’re doing a lot for us—”
Nick felt obliged to correct him. “I’m not doing anything for you,” he said. “Alan’s the one who wants to help people. You’re putting my brother in danger, so I don’t like either of you much, but it’s nothing personal.”
“We hadn’t endangered Alan when we were at school together,” Jamie said. “You avoided us then, too.”
“Well,” said Nick, “that’s because you were weird.”
They were just off the high street and getting closer every step to the railway station when Nick saw another pub and headed wearily for it.
“Sorry, I’m taking a moment to process,” Jamie said behind him. “I’ve never been called weird by someone who summons demons before.”
“That’s something I do,” Nick stated absently. “That’s not what I am. I have to do all this, but one day Alan and I won’t have to anymore.”
They went into the pub, which was called the New Inn. Nick presumed the wood and stone fittings, not to mention the black-fringed lanterns, were ironic. He prowled across the floor, scanning dim corners, with Jamie still at his heels.
Jamie was also still talking. “See, that’s not entirely true. I mean, I don’t want to offend you, but it’s not just that you summon demons. It’s not even about the fact that you’ve got more knives on you right now than a fancy restaurant has in its silverware drawer. You, um, you don’t smile, and you look through people, and you’re—”
“Quiet,” Nick said.
“Yes, you’re very quiet,” Jamie agreed, “and I have to say, I find it a little disturbing.”
“I mean,” Nick said, “shut up. I think I see something.”
At the left corner of the bar was a magician. He was buying a bag of crisps.
If he had not attempted to disguise himself, Nick would have passed him by. This man had cast a few simple illusions on himself, to make himself look older and, if Nick was any judge, darker than he was, and the too artistic lines of the wrinkles and too dense blackness of the hair leaped out at Nick. The magician was like a man painted in oils, superimposed on a world drawn in crayon.
Nick’s muscles all surged forward at once before he’d even had time to think about it. The hunt was on.
“Get down,” he whispered.
“I’m way ahead of you,” Jamie said from the floor.
A few people glanced at the suddenly prone boy, Nick noticed in his peripheral vision. Fewer still, with good instincts for where the real danger was coming from, looked at him. He didn’t care about them. It did not matter who saw him draw the knife, so long as the magician went down.
Only he had to bring the magician to Alan alive. The thought pulled him up short and he faltered, his easy movements toward the kill lost.
If he had been coming to kill the magician, the man would never have seen him. He’d done it before. He could move smoothly enough, surely enough, to be invisible for as long as he needed to be. When he faltered, the magician’s head snapped around.
He dropped his crisps onto the counter and threw up a hand. All Nick saw was a glitter in the air, and then wind hurled sand into his eyes. Nick blinked and the magician bolted, the door of the inn slamming behind him.
The guy couldn’t be very powerful if the first weapon in his arsenal was sand.
“Jamie!” Nick snapped. “Can you see?”
That was lucky. At this range, Nick would’ve expected the magician’s sand to have blinded them both.
“Then follow him!”
“Um,” said Jamie, and as Nick tried to see through his smarting eyes, he felt Jamie seize his wrist and pull him outside. “Um,” Jamie repeated, sounding even more lost than before. “I can’t follow him anymore.”
“Why not?” Nick demanded, just as he became able to focus and saw the magician lifted by a demon’s wind onto the slanted rooftops.
“Because I can’t fly,” Jamie answered weakly.
Nick narrowed his eyes. The magician did not look as if the wind would be carrying him any farther away. He was running, stumbling on the roof tiles, as if he had only his legs and no more magic to rely on for escape.
He spoke through his teeth. “Nor can he.”
There was a shiny black painted pipe on either side of the inn. Nick grabbed the nearest and swung himself up, shoes sliding on the slick paint as he pulled himself up by main force. He grasped for a scrabbling instant at the gutter, and then put all his weight on his arms and hauled himself onto the roof.
The magician was getting farther away. Nick started to run. There was no hesitation now, no thought about what he should do when he caught up with the man, just the clean absence of thought and the ferocious simplicity of the chase. Nick was going to bring him down. What happened next did not matter.
The magician was fast, but not fast enough. Nick would have caught him in a minute if it hadn’t been for the terrain he was chasing him over. For the first time he knew why roofs were described as shingled. The jagged red tiles on these roofs were like the jagged sliding stones on a beach that was all shingle. Every tile slipped treacherously underfoot. Every time Nick had to turn during his chase, there was a tinkle of falling tiles.
Turning a corner, he fell hard on his hands and knees. The sky tilted sharply in his vision, but he clung to the roof, jamming his leg against the row of little white spikes at the edge. The tiles left deep impressions in his palms, but after a moment he was able to leap up and run again.
Nick was drawing closer, bearing down on the man. The magician looked over his shoulder for an instant and Nick saw fear in his eyes, saw he knew what was coming. It made Nick want to laugh, but he only ran, so fast that he almost threw himself out into space when the roofs ended.
He looked around to see if the magician’s demon had managed to blow him across the street and saw the man veering for an old bridge that spanned over the street to join up with the next set of rooftops. Nick grinned, feeling his lips skin back from his teeth, and hurtled over the curved bridge in pursuit. A gold coat of arms flashed by as he ran, a bright lion below making a face at him. He was several strides past the bridge, onto the next roof and close enough to hear the magician’s ragged, desperate breaths. Nick felt the solid weight of his knife handle against his palm, with no memory of reaching for it. He narrowed his eyes, judging the distance, measuring how hard he’d have to throw the knife, and remembered again that he could not kill this magician.
Nick tossed up his knife as he ran and caught it by the blade. Cold steel cut across his palm and he ignored it, aimed, and threw.
The hilt of the knife caught the magician hard on the back of his head, and he went down like a thrown stone, tumbling head over heels. Nick had to throw himself down and seize the man around the middle to stop him falling off the roof.
They were almost at the end of the rooftops. There was nothing ahead but a street and a bridge, this one actually over water. Down below Jamie was running. Nick could hear his voice assuring passersby that this was a daring rooftop chase scene they were rehearsing for a movie.
Nick sat on the rooftop, cold, breathing harshly, and with his heart hammering a loud, triumphant rhythm in his chest. He’d done it. He’d caught a live magician, and now Alan would be safe.
“ALAN,” NICK SAID. “DON’T BE A FOOL.”
He did not think he had ever been so angry in his life. He’d been the one to catch the magician. He’d carried him over his shoulder through the streets of Salisbury with Jamie on his heels, explaining to anyone who questioned them that the unconscious man was Jamie’s cousin, and he had fits. Nick had trussed the magician up in iron, mostly bike chains he’d stolen, and thrown him in the boot of the car.
Nick had caught the magician. He should get to decide what to do with him.
Alan ran a hand through his hair as he always did when he was worried, leaving a fuzz of curls in the wake of his fingers as if he felt the outside of his head had to express the turmoil inside. “I’m trying to think of what’s best for everyone.”
“I don’t care what’s best for everyone!” Nick snarled. “I only care about what’s best for you.”
Jamie flattened himself against the wall, and even Mae jumped. Only Alan continued to look tired and unaffected, and Nick was frustrated enough to wish for a moment that his brother would just this once be like everyone else so Nick could scare him enough to do what he wanted him to do.
“The Circle may know by now that we have him,” Alan said slowly. “They’ll be on the alert.”
“There were no other magicians around to see us take him. Don’t you think I looked? Let’s kill him now and get the mark off you,” Nick argued. “Before they notice he’s gone and send something after him.”
“We can’t kill him yet. We need two magicians, and we won’t be able to surprise the Circle again. We need to get information from this one before we kill him.”
Nick did not know what to do. Alan insisted on acting as if Jamie’s life was worth as much as Alan’s, and no matter how much Nick disagreed, he knew with a wrench of furious despair that he was powerless to change Alan’s mind.
“Alan,” he said at last. “I swear I’ll catch another magician. I’ll do whatever you want. Only let me kill this one now and get the mark off. Alan. Please.”
When Alan looked at him steadily, Nick had to look away. Alan knew Nick, and knew what Nick was thinking: that he would try to catch another magician, but he might fail, and what did broken promises matter if Alan was safe?
“I don’t think we should take my mark off now,” Alan said at last. “I think we should take off Jamie’s.”
“Oh no,” Nick breathed. “No.”
If Alan thought for a moment that Nick would let Jamie be saved while Alan was still in danger, he was dreaming. Nick opened his mouth to say so.
Unexpectedly, Jamie spoke. He said, “No.” Everyone looked at him and his mouth quivered, but he pressed his lips together for a moment and went on. “You wouldn’t have a second-tier mark if it weren’t for me. We wouldn’t have this magician if it weren’t for you and Nick. It wouldn’t be fair to — I want you to go first.”