Through Nick's memories, we learn about the last time Alan gave his talisman away.
It was eight years ago, and Mum, Nick, Alan, and their dad, Daniel Ryves, discovered that a group of magicians had laid a circle around their house, trapping them inside. All four of them knew that breaking the circle would mean death.
Daniel Ryves told Alan—then eleven—to look after his mother and brother, and then ran through the circle, killing himself but giving the rest of them a chance to run.
Alan grabbed Mum's hand and, noticing that Nick—then eight—wasn't wearing a talisman, put his own around Nick's neck. They all made it through the circle, but Alan, the only one not wearing a talisman, was permanently injured when his leg caught fire.
So much for happy memories. Back in the present, Mae and Jamie leave and Alan runs upstairs to check on Mum; Nick can't accompany his brother because Mum freaks out whenever she has to be in Nick's company. (There are some interesting family dynamics going on here, to say the least.)
Nick's too worked up to sit still, so he goes outside and practices his swordplay until morning.
When he comes inside, Alan's making breakfast.
They talk about Alan giving up his talisman and Nick points out that even though it was the boy, Jamie, who had the problem, Alan gave the talisman to the girl, Mae. Lovesick much?
Alan admits that maybe it wasn't the best move but says that he didn't just want to impress her so she'd like him, he also wanted to help protect her. And he still wants to help both Mae and Jamie if he can.
Nick expresses his concern over Alan's mark and Alan tells him not to worry—they've seen plenty of people with first marks, and it's no big deal.
They discuss where they should move next, seeing as how the magicians have found them yet again, and decide on London.
Alan seems happy about that and says that in May they can go to the Goblin Market and find someone to do some kind of dance to get rid of his mark.
Nick says he'll dance and Alan reminds him that he said he'd never dance again, but Nick insists he'll be the one to dance for his brother and that's that.
Nick takes a nap and wakes later to find Alan packing up the car. He takes the heavy boxes from his brother and tells him to go pack up his books. Alan has lots of books.
As Nick is putting boxes into the car, Mae and Jamie show up again, dismayed to see the Ryveses leaving. Who's going to help them if the Ryveses leave town?
Nick tells them to get lost, but Alan comes out with Mum and is happy to see Mae and Jamie there.
Alan suddenly draws his gun, so Nick draws his sword and turns to see what Alan's looking at.
There's a woman coming down the street who is a messenger (someone who works for magicians).
She says she has a message from Black Arthur: "Black Arthur says that now's the time. He wants it back" (3.134).
Alan goes pale and replies: "Tell Black Arthur no matter what I have to do, I'll make him regret sending that message" (3.152).
Mae wants to know who Black Arthur is, and she also wants to get help for her brother. She gets Alan to consent to bring her and Jamie along when they go to the Goblin Market in May.
Nick is, once again, really ticked off at Mae, so he answers her question about Black Arthur, explaining that he was the man Mum (who's named Olivia) loved. She was one of his magicians, she did evil things, he drove her mad, and she stole a charm from him and ran away. To Daniel Ryves. Arthur has been hunting her ever since in order to get his charm back.
Unfortunately, giving the charm back would kill Mum/Olivia, so they've been running for years.
Awkward silence follows Nick's charming tale, and then Alan asks Mae for her number. So he can call her when it's time for the Goblin Market, of course. They say their goodbyes, and Alan, Nick, and Mum hop in the car and head for London.
Alan starts out driving, but an hour into the trip his leg starts to ache, so he and Nick switch places.
They drive into London to a house procured for them by Merris Cromwell, someone from the Goblin Market that Alan has helped out in the past. (Alan likes to be helpful.)
It's kind of a drab house, but they go in and start unpacking.
As Nick is carrying in Alan's books, something falls out of one of them. It's a picture of a blonde girl who Nick assumes is one of Alan's former girlfriends. What bothers him though, is that he doesn't recognize her, and he hates it when Alan keeps secrets from him.
He remembers a time when Alan was receiving a bunch of letters in the mail that he tried to keep from Nick, but Nick had started intercepting the mail and cutting the letters up. Eventually they stopped coming. Nick wonders if the girl in the picture is the girl who wrote the letters.
He hears Alan limping up the stairs and puts the picture back in the book without mentioning it to Alan, but he plans to find out who she is.
That night Nick sleeps on the kitchen floor to keep watch, but he's not waiting for magicians or demons.
In the wee hours he catches Alan trying to sneak out and tackles him.
Alan says he needs to go—now that he's marked, it's too easy for the magicians to find him and he doesn't want to put Nick and Mum in danger. Nick tells him that if Alan leaves, Nick will leave Mum. She'll be all on her own.
Alan caves and agrees to stay, so Nick carries his bag upstairs where he sees the goodbye note Alan left. Nick has trouble reading (words give him difficulty), but he see one line that says, "I'm going to a place where I know I'll be welcome" (3.258), and starts thinking about the girl in the picture again.
He wonders if maybe Alan wanted to leave—if he wanted to go see that girl.
Alan vows to come up with a plan to settle things with Black Arthur once and for all, and he also promises not to try to sneak out again.