The Last Lexicon Short Story

M’dears, I am so sorry this is late! Here is the free short story to celebrate the release of The Demon’s Surrender.

It will (probably – there are few guarantees in Sarahland) be the last Lexicon story. Here are all the short stories written previously in the Lexicon universe.

Should you not have read one or all of the Lexicon books, well: they are now all out, a beauteous set of three. Mayyyybe you would like to read them.

If you have read the books, I thank you more than I can say, and I hope you enjoy this present.

All The Way Back Where We Started From: Even evil magicians hate their boss. (Featuring Hnikarr.)


All The Way Back Where We Started From

The rules of middle management still held good for magic.

Laura Godwin had worked in investment banking before the magicians came for her, and she had been somewhat surprised to find that her skills transferred quite easily.

You aimed for a certain point in the organisation, became quietly necessary and, barring absolute catastrophe, your job was safe. But you never reached for the top: it wasn’t safe at the top, because too many ambitious people wanted that position and because if you did a bad job, those below you would be arranging things so one of those ambitious folk would get it.

Laura had seen it happen in other Circles, and taken note.

The Obsidian Circle had always been fairly stable. John Dee had been an old, wise magician, who had probably even died of natural causes. His grandson Arthur, the most powerful magician anyone had seen in an invariably magical family for generations, had been his natural successor, and if the boy was fond of theatrics, well, he was young and there was no harm in that.

The fact Laura did not like him personally was not important, though she would naturally have preferred a leader she did not constantly dream of smacking about the head.

Since their brief unpleasant stay in Durham, Laura had simply arranged matters so she was never alone with Arthur.

That had been a nightmare from the moment the car broke down.

“Fix it,” Arthur had commanded, crossing his arms over his chest and sinking in his seat like a child denied an ice-cream.

Laura had never liked children. She counted to ten, and then to twelve just to be certain.

“I’m afraid my total ignorance about cars would interfere with my efficiency in spell-casting,” she said evenly. “Do you have any wisdom to offer on the subject?”

Since Charles generally acted as a chauffeur for Arthur and now she was stuck with the job, she actually doubted that Arthur knew how to drive.

Laura had not been sure how long she could conceal her irritation while trapped in Arthur’s sole company in a confined space, so she had been deeply thankful when the battered brown Ford drew up alongside the sleek black of their car.

Arthur’s lip curled. He’d looked concerned that their rescuer might mess up their paint job.

His lip was still curled, a picture of supercilious dismay, black head tipped indolently back against the car rest, blue eyes heavy-lidded, when the young man tapped on his window.

They presented quite a contrast, Laura hadn’t been able to help noticing. The other guy had curly hair too, but it was bright and rumpled, standing up all around his head and giving him the appearance of a friendly red-gold lion. He gave them a smile, as if he was so generally happy that his goodwill spilled all over strangers, even complete strangers giving him the stink-eye.

“Can I help out at all?”

Laura said yes, please and thank you, and described the noise under the bonnet before the car stopped. The young man, who introduced himself as Daniel, popped the bonnet and had a look, cheerfully talking to Laura as he did so.

Arthur’s exaggerated boredom about the whole proceeding meant that he was the one who looked to the Ford, and saw the young woman in the passenger seat.

Laura felt his body go stiff and startled, and she looked across as well.

The woman was ravingly beautiful, with long black hair, white skin and a dissatisfied expression, like Snow White on a day when she had cramps. She was also a magician.

She and Arthur were staring at each other, eyes locked.

Laura recalled the sensation vividly, the sweet shock of joy and stunned recognition – you’re like me, there is finally someone who is like me! When they had come for her, she’d felt it. She had been half in love with Arthur herself for twenty minutes, though he would never have deigned to notice a middle-aged woman in any way whatsoever and after the twenty minutes were up she realised he was a total pill.

He looked the part of a rescuer, though, a tall dark stranger from faraway lands, promising magic and adventure and freedom at last. The young woman had her hand on the car door already, Laura could see her fingers pressing white against the glass, as if the car was a cage.

“This is my wife Olivia,” said Daniel Ryves, noticing Arthur’s gaze. Since said gaze would have made a laser look lacking in focus, Laura could not blame him.

Daniel did not look unduly bothered, as if he was used to his gorgeous wife attracting attention, as if he was absolutely confident in himself and in her, happy to be doing his good deed for strangers on a sunny afternoon, absolutely confident in their love for each other and their future together.

Arthur went slinking out of the car toward Olivia. He opened the door for her and put out his hand for hers. She hesitated, looking up into his face: Arthur could be extremely charming, Laura thought clinically, which was an excellent quality in a leader. He never bothered to be charming unless he felt like it, which was not.

Olivia laid her fingers across his palm. Arthur lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it.

Laura looked out through her car windshield and met Daniel’s gaze. They both rolled their eyes, and it made Laura smile. Daniel Ryves smiled back, bright and open and genuinely charming, as if she wasn’t invisible to him the way she was to Arthur, as if nobody was invisible to him.

If only Arthur had charm like that, self-effacing and drawing other people in by making it seem as if they were special and not him. Laura could really have used a leader with charm like that.

Poor Daniel. Laura expected that the girl would be driving away with them in twenty minutes.

She was wrong about that. It took two days.

It took some persuasion to make Arthur book rooms at a guest house near Daniel and Olivia’s home. His first brilliant scheme was to call up a demon to kill Daniel, and potentially Olivia’s family if they were holding her back.

His desire to have what he wanted immediately, with no thought for long-term strategy or cost, was the worst trait a leader could have. It also gave Laura a migraine to hear him complaining.

“We want our members willing, Arthur,” she said, and there was an edge to her voice if Arthur had been smart enough to notice it. “We want them to make their own choices.” Arthur frowned at her, ice-blue eyes brilliant under dark brows, and Laura gentled her voice. Arthur wasn’t stupid, even if his arrogance produced that effect too often. “So that their loyalty to you will be unquestioned.”

Arthur went off in a huff to court his lady. Laura stayed where she was, in a chair by a window in their little red brick guesthouse, and was grateful for the peace. There was a tree, its leaf-laden branches touching the window ledge, and Laura amused herself by making the leaves curl and turn gold with autumn, even though it was summer.

Magicians should make their own choices.

She had not even tried to resist, the way Olivia had, turning her face away from Arthur’s like a snake refusing to be charmed. The first moment the magicians had walked into her office, Laura had known what she wanted – other people like her at last, and the magic at last, not a secret crushed into a corner of her heart but let flow free and fierce through her veins. Stepping from shadow into light. Arthur had put out his hand, and she had taken it without hesitation.

She was still not going to let Arthur kill Daniel Ryves. Laura thought it was rather gauche to sic demons on people she had been introduced to. The world was full of strangers to kill.

Laura had only had someone she knew killed once.

She’d never had children, but she had been married. Edward had been a kind man who wore rounded spectacles that he peered through at her with a look that was half love and half sorrow: he had not thought some part of her would always remain aloof from him. Laura could not recall his face, but she remembered that look with extreme clarity.

She had sent a demon to his window. It was best to make a clean break, moving from one life to another.

Laura was saving Daniel Ryves so Olivia could make that choice later, if she wanted.

After two days, Arthur talked Olivia around, and she left with them. Laura was glad for Olivia’s company in the car on the way back to Exeter: she had not undertaken a trip in Arthur’s company alone again, and it had been years.

Years, and Arthur and Olivia had been together that long. She was called Livia now, because Arthur was the kind of man who always called the women in his life by diminutives. Years, and Arthur had not gained but rather lost ground as a leader, his over-reaching ambition leaving the clever members of his Circle no choice but to search England for a magician who could rival his power. The only one in their circle who could do it was Livia herself, one of theirs now, and one of the strongest among them.

Laura had been watching, and Livia’s loyalty seemed unshakable.

But if anything could shake that loyalty, it would be Arthur’s latest scheme.

*

The cellar in their manor in Devon was a large dark space, the floor packed-tight earth. It had been a wine cellar, but nobody was going to keep wine in a place where they regularly raised demons. Balefire was no good for a vintage.

The circle of obsidians that channeled their Circle’s power, that gave the Obsidian Circle their name, was glowing. The light of the balefire touched the black stones with white flashes.

Two ordinary demons’ circles were drawn to overlap with the Circle. One demon’s circle was drawn within it, using all the power of the obsidians to call a demon that had not answered a summons in a hundred years.

The word on the magical grapevine was that it had gone mad.

Laura was beginning to seriously wonder if Arthur had gone mad.

It was not like the standard, supposedly-sane demons were pleasant to deal with. In the two circles overlapping their obsidian one stood Liannan, its hair fire and its hands icicles, its face like the last beautiful illusion before death. In the other was Anzu, the shining predator, feathers falling from its hair like gold leaves in autumn.

They were both inclined toward the shimmering stones that wrapped around the other circle, to the balefire that roared and scintillated there, filling the circle with white flame and nothing more.

They had been chanting, Laura could not help but notice, for some time. Well past the amount of time they usually spent calling, the time when they decided this demon was not going to answer.

This demon being, again, the demon that had not answered a summons in a hundred years. Had it been a human, this would not be a case of ‘not at home, possibly popped out for milk’ but ‘moved, had phone disconnected and house demolished.’

“We call on the demon they called Hnikarr in the west,” Arthur shouted, and the force of conviction behind his rich rolling voice making every other voice chime in with renewed fervour. “We call on the demon they called Nicor on the storm-ruined sea, we call on the demon the northern tribes called Nix. We call on the tempest-summoner, the shipbreaker, the nightbringer, the one who shatters the sky. We call on the caller of the last darkness. We call on Hnikarr.”

Which of them was going to be the first to break, Laura wondered, and say that this was not going to work? It was not going to be her: she was more the type to wait and watch, but she could use the first sign of rebellion.

She looked toward Livia, who was standing as always beside Arthur, like perfect male and female halves of each other, ice-blue eyes and ice-pale skin and coal-black hair.

Except that there was a shadow on Livia’s face, whereas Arthur still looked absolutely serene.

Laura waited for Livia to speak, but something else happened instead.

There in the white blinding light, like the expanse in the heart of a star, something was rising. Darkness was being born.

The demons in the other circles leaned slightly toward it, as if they were trees bowed by the wind in a particular direction.

Hnikarr the sky-shatterer was a rather unsettling sight. Laura had seen a hundred demons before. They looked like Anzu and Liannan, bright and beautiful poisonous traps, vicious and vivid.

Hnikarr certainly looked vicious, looked as its names suggested. There was a strange shadow enveloping the man’s shape of its body, like an outline drawn in black crayon around it: something about the darkness behind its arrogantly held head suggested a stormcloud.

That was not what disturbed Laura so profoundly: it was the fact it looked older than Anzu or Liannan, who always wore the radiance of youth. There were lines of cruelty marked on its face, etched from his narrowed crystalline eyes. It had dark short hair, dark simple clothes and a face that was all harsh angles.

There was nothing about it designed to allure. Laura did not know how to deal with a demon that did not advertise its wares, its twin promises of pleasure and pain. How could you bargain with this?

“Welcome, nightbringer,” said Arthur. “I am the leader of the Obsidian Circle.”

Laura knew with a sinking feeling that her brilliant leader was about to try.

The demon regarded him balefully. “Why are you bothering me?”

Laura was aware he was not really talking, but the demons’ silent language usually seemed to beckon in your mind. This voice battered at your mind, like waves crashing against rock.

“I want to offer you something,” Arthur said. “Something very special. I think you’ll find it a most exciting opportunity.”

“I think you’ll find that I am a demon,” said Hnikarr. “So you needn’t talk to me as if you are trying to sell me a used car. I have been bargaining people out of their very blood for a song, for thousands of years before you were ever born, boy. My allies told me you had something entertaining to say. Say it.”

Entertaining. So the demons were snickering at Arthur’s antics behind their backs, like schoolchildren. Wasn’t that marvellous.

Laura looked at Anzu and Liannan, beautifully blithe. Anzu was looking at Hnikarr: Liannan looked at Laura, though, and it did not bother to conceal its amusement.

“Oh, Hnikarr,” it said. “How you wind the humans around your little finger.”

“I don’t want to wind them around my little finger,” Hnikarr said. “I’ll leave that to you, trap-layer.” Its voice crashing in Laura’s mind did not seem quite as harsh when it addressed Liannan: she could not tell if that was an insult or some demonic endearment. “The only thing I want to do,” said Hnikarr, almost conversationally, “is crush them all.”

“I think you want something else,” said Arthur.

Hnikarr looked at Arthur, the crystal caves of its empty demon’s eyes going on for miles.

“Go on then,” it said. “Tell me what I want.”

“Our records say you haven’t taken a human host in a hundred and three years,” said Arthur. “You got tired of it, didn’t you? The same old routine, over and over again. Trick a human, possess it, see the body fall apart in weeks. Go again. You wanted to be done with it all.”

His voice commanded Hnikarr to believe in him: the demon did not seem as amenable as most of the Obsidian Circle.

“I’ll tell you what I got tired of,” Hnikarr murmured. “You. You humans. I could not bear the idea of wheedling under another of your foolish windows. The idea of pleasing one of you, making one of you happy for even a moment, even if I could make you pay for it a thousand times over later… I could not do it any longer. I hate you all so much.”

There was a crackle in the darkness around the demon, like the sound of lightning being born.

“Everyone needs a break sometimes,” Liannan remarked, shrugging. When it moved the gesture looked fluid and boneless, like the action of a snake.

“Say you didn’t have to wheedle under another window,” Arthur said. “Say you could have a body without trickery, and the body would last not weeks, but years: a whole human lifetime. What then?”

“How?”

Hnikarr threw the word down like a gauntlet. Liannan and Anzu both laughed, their laughter falling in Laura’s mind like shards of ice in a dark place, bright and potentially deadly.

“There are stories that suggest a child does not have its soul until it takes its first breath,” Arthur said. “Or that an infant’s soul is a frail flickering thing: infinitely fragile. Absolutely crushable.”

Even though the Circle had heard Arthur’s spiel many times before, when Laura looked around she saw unease written on several faces, pale by the light of the balefire. Being a magician meant making certain compromises, but—they were talking about children.

“So your plan is to present me with a pregnant woman,” said Hnikarr.

“And with the aid of this Circle’s magic, I believe we can make it possible for you to possess the unborn child.”

Arthur nodded with great satisfaction, as if he had just proved a complex mathematical equation before a crowd.

“So tempting, isn’t it?” Liannan drawled. “We do not possess humans before the age of sixteen, because they are useless before then. Their bodies fall apart even faster, and they do not channel magic sufficiently. Even you creatures with your pathetic magic should know that much, should know how we work. We are demons. Are you new?”

“Not to mention the danger,” Anzu said. “It’s hard to think clearly when occupying animals, and they last days. What he’s suggesting, being trapped in an infant brain—it could warp your mind. The risk isn’t worth it.”

Liannan’s tone had been only mocking: there was something serious in the way Anzu spoke.

Laura tilted her head to look at the savage lines of Hnikarr’s face from a different angle. It could not possibly be considering this.

But they did say it was mad.

“A body, for a lifetime,” Arthur murmured. He held his hands out, cupped as if he was offering Hnikarr something: a jewel, or an apple. “Wouldn’t that be worth the risk?”

“I assume you would want compensation.”

Arthur’s hands broke apart: he made a small gesture, very small, indicating the tiniest of issues. “It would hardly mean anything to you,” he said. “We would keep you safe in the Circle quarters until you grew into your power, and once you had it, you would have so much. I would want my share, and for you to do me some favours in return.”

“You would bring him up among you?” Anzu asked. “Would you send him to bed without his supper if he was naughty?”

“No supper ever, then,” Liannan murmured. “Sad.”

All the demons laughed then, even Hnikarr, in a cold cascade.

“Your share,” Hnikarr repeated. “Some favours. Enough power to rule all the magicians in England? Enough power to come out of hiding, and rule the world?”

Arthur hesitated. There was a brief moment of hesitation where the only sound in the room was the low roar of balefire and the echo of the demons laughing.

“You and I could share the world,” Arthur suggested at last. “Don’t you think?”

“I’ll tell you what I think,” Hnikarr said. “I think I’ll do it.”

There was a buzz of horror and astonishment around the Obsidian Circle, all magicians trained far too well to let stray words drop around demons. There was chaos in the demons’ circles.

“No, Hnikarr,” Liannan exclaimed. “This man is a joke-”

“I know the temptation is great,” Anzu said. “I know you are unhappy. But the danger isn’t worth it—who knows what could happen to you–”

“The temptation is not that great,” Liannan sneered. “To be human, or something like it, for sixteen years. The idea is disgusting.”

“You can’t trust these people,” Anzu said. “You wouldn’t be safe.”

“Such concern over my safety,” said Hnikarr. “And my happiness. You’re so sweet, Anzu. Almost human.”

Liannan and Hnikarr were the ones who laughed then, wheeling on Anzu like hyenas taunting the weakest member of the pack. Laura had not seen demons interacting with their own kind often. She did not care if she never saw it again.

“And I may not be able to trust them, but you have been my allies since before the things that would become humans crawled out of the mud,” Hnikarr said calmly. “With a body that lasts, once I hit sixteen I can line people up and mark them for you both. It will be in your best interests to guard me until I have my power.”

“Of course we would,” Liannan said. It was smiling now, a spark of interest in its face suddenly. Its teeth were like pearls sharpened to dagger points.

Anzu had turned its face away when the others had laughed at it. It was silent.

Hnikarr swung back to Arthur. When Liannan moved it was snakelike, and when Anzu moved it was light as if he was flying, but with Hnikarr when he took a step forward the sound echoed like thunder, the step of a monster that was coming for you and wanted you to know.

“I’ll do it,” said Hnikarr again. “And you can have the world, if you want it. But first you should understand why I’ll do it, and what I am going to do. I hate humans, and the reason I hate them so much is because of how pathetically easy it is to trick them, because they turn their backs on the world they have already and create other worlds in their tiny little minds, worlds full of stupid, meaningless illusions. Take that woman,” it added, and nodded towards Livia.

Livia did not start. She stayed perfectly still, the black hair hanging about her the only thing that moved, making her look like a statue in a black velvet cape.

Hnikarr’s lip curled. Its teeth were like Liannan’s, razor-sharp points, but Hnikarr’s looked heavier somehow, as if it could literally take someone’s head off with one bite. “I suppose you’d tell me that you love her. Wouldn’t you?”

“If it was any of your business,” Arthur said haughtily, “I suppose I would.”

“Ah, love,” said Hnikarr. “Lifts you up where you belong. All you need. Isn’t that right? Except it’s not all you need, is it, because you still want power enough to barter some mewling child for it. Love’s just a lie, like all your other lies about comfort, and relief, and any sort of peace being possible for anyone in any world. That’s why I hate you all, you hypocrites, making up whole worlds of words you don’t even believe in yourselves. Not really: not when you’re tested, not when you’re tempted. You filthy, revolting liars.”

There was light and sound in the shadow that enveloped Hnikarr now, thin white scars of lightning, snatches of thunder. The demon was surrounded by a glimpse of coming storms.

“I’ll take your bargain, and I’ll take the body. And I’ll give you what you want in return. But you should know this: one day you’ll die, partner, or you’ll slip up, and then the world is mine alone. I’ll burn it until it’s all ash and wasteland. I will burn the world, and I will laugh as your whole lying race burns with it and finally, finally falls silent. That’s my part of the bargain. All I want is the world’s death.”

Hnikarr, the caller of the last darkness.

Demons never lied.

Arthur, even Arthur, hesitated. “I won’t slip up,” he said. “You won’t get out of our bargain.”

Because demons never, ever got the best of bargains with humans, did they?

Hnikarr threw back its head. Its laugh felt like scrabbling ice-cold claws inside Laura’s head. She had seen a hundred demons, but they had been controlled demons, they had both known what they wanted, agreed on and understood the price. They had not been deals made at the edge in darkness, throwing the world like a glass ball from hand to hand.

There was sweat dripping down the back of Laura’s neck, cold as river water.

“Oh,” said Hnikarr, still laughing. “You don’t even care, do you? So long as you get what you want. You don’t even care. Oh, this is humans for you. So much for the infinite human capacity for compassion, so much for human grace. Consider it a bargain.”

The demon smiled, and for the first time there was a hint of allure about it, some spark of dark crackling excitement lighting its cruel face.

It said: “I can already hear the world burning.”

“I can control you,” said Arthur. “And I think our bargain is an excellent one. All that’s left is to discuss logistics, isn’t there?”

“Do you have a pregnant woman handy?” Hnikarr inquired casually.

Arthur frowned. “They litter the city streets. I can’t imagine one will be difficult to get hold of.”

He neglected to mention that if he had secured a pregnant woman before he secured his demon, said woman could have given birth three times over by now.

“I like you,” Hnikarr said, its loathing and contempt so tangible Laura felt as if she could have painted the walls with them. “Can I make a request?”

Incredibly, Arthur smiled, as if he thought things were going terribly well. “Of course.”

“Find a redhead,” said Hnikarr. “Or a blonde. That’s what I prefer. I enjoy warm colours.”

Laura looked at Liannan and Anzu, flame and gold their accustomed shapes. They had all been together a long time.

“I will see what I can do,” Arthur said graciously. “Of course, the process may take a few tries.”

“I have time,” said Hnikarr. “And I hear women litter the city streets. Send out your people and bring us our first victim.”

Arthur made a gesture, and the members of the Circle began to file out of the room. Livia leaned into Arthur, murmuring something Laura could not catch, and then she left, too.

Laura went after the others. Arthur was extremely bad at the details of leadership, and so she had to choose who should go, and where they should go, to find a pregnant woman people would not miss and snatch her away.

As if magicians were no better than crude thugs, kidnapping people off the streets. Demons were meant to do their dirty work: they weren’t meant to do demons’.

But Arthur was still the leader, for now. Laura gave the instructions, and had to deal with a little crisis: Charles came staggering in with some story about having Stella Davies, one of the leaders in the ridiculous little band of magician-haters who called themselves the Goblin Market, cornered until an ordinary human came to the lady’s rescue and defeated Charles, one of their best magicians, by the cunning means of a briefcase to the head. Laura was horrified that Charles would share a story that cast him in such an extremely ridiculous light, and told him so.

Then she went to find Livia. After Arthur’s latest display, she thought they might have a very productive little chat.

*

Laura could not find Livia at first. She was in none of the floors above, and for an awful moment Laura thought she had gone back into that room full of balefire and bad bargains, and that Laura would miss her chance to strike while the iron was hot and the shock of Arthur’s sheer stupid recklessness still fresh.

She found Livia near the room where the demons waited, but not in it. Livia was standing down the hall, with a phone tucked between her shoulder and her cheek. Hearing Laura’s step behind her, Livia whirled as if she was about to be attacked and the phone receiver tumbled to the floor.

“Laura,” Livia breathed, and pressed a hand to her breastbone.

Oh, she had been shaken by Arthur’s little performance, all right.

“What are you doing?”

Livia drew herself up: she had more natural dignity than Arthur did, Laura noted. Her cool eyes bored through Laura’s face.

“What I do is none of your concern.”

“Naturally, Lady Livia,” said Laura, using the absurd name Arthur insisted on, and saw Livia’s shoulders relax. “I only wished to ascertain that you were well,” Laura continued, her voice unctuous, the efficient soothing tones of the perfect secretary. “You seemed somewhat disturbed.”

Livia laughed, a short, barking laugh. “I think we were all somewhat disturbed.”

Not much discretion, Laura noted. But that could be fixed, and it was always useful to be the recipient of your leader’s confidences.

“I do wish Black Arthur-” again with the tiresome names, but it would be worth it to achieve the desired result-“would let you have more of a say when it came to running the Circle.”

“Oh, enough, Laura,” Livia snapped. “Arthur may trust you, but I don’t. I know you don’t like him, and I know you’re trying to manipulate me into airing my dissatisfactions with him. You’re not getting my confidence this way, and I will not accord you any more power.”

She was cleverer than Laura had thought, but she didn’t quite see everything. Or she had no ambition, to make her see.

Or love had rendered her blind.

Either way, Laura’s plans looked bad.

“I do not want any more power,” Laura said, quite truthfully. “I only wish that we were not embarking on this particular course of action. It seems to me—ill-advised.”

“Well,” said Livia. “There I agree with you. But you don’t need to worry. We won’t be carrying out Arthur’s plans.”

This was encouraging.

“No?” Laura asked.

“No,” said Livia, and looked over her shoulder at the fallen phone. She smiled a small, strained smile. “Everything will turn out for the best,” she said. “Arthur won’t want to do it, once I tell him something.”

Laura was watching closely, so she caught the tell: the involuntary fluttering movement of Livia’s fingers toward her stomach, before she checked herself.

“You heard him,” Livia continued sharply. “He loves me.”

She might be a fine magician, but she was also fiercely stubborn. She had cast in her lot with Arthur, and would stand by while he led them all to ruin. It was useless to talk further with her.

Laura bowed her head. “Of course he does.”

There was no point antagonising the current leaders, especially when she had no chance yet of acquiring a new one.

Livia hesitated, then nodded abruptly at Laura and walked back toward the room where the demons and the man she loved waited, her black hair flaring out behind her like a flag claiming her territory.

Laura was going to have to talk to Charles, and Rufus, and a few select others, about expanding their usual search for new magicians to recruit. Cast the net wider, to Wales, Scotland, even to Ireland. Lower the age restriction, and consider bringing them in young, when they could still be moulded.

There had to be a better candidate out there somewhere. Laura would find them.

The phone receiver lay at her feet, and because all information might prove useful, Laura picked it up.

She was vaguely startled to hear a woman’s voice, not the voice of Daniel Ryves. The woman sounded frantic, her voice fraying as if she had been shouting down the line for some time.

“Olivia?” she said, and Laura had not heard anyone call Livia by that name in years. “Olivia, where are you? Olivia, please, please tell me. We’ll come get you. We’ll keep you safe. If he’s scaring you, you should leave, and you should come to us. Olivia: I still love you, I believe in you, and I know you can do this. Come to us. I’ll protect you. I would never, ever let anything happen to you. Please come.”

Her pleading was cut into by the sound of a baby crying. Laura winced: she could not seem to get away from babies today.

The child did not sound as if it was in pain, just distressed by his mother’s distress. Laura listened to its soft cries and his mother’s hushing, her incoherent-with-familiarity murmurs of love.

Down the hall, Livia must have opened the door, because Laura heard a snatch of Arthur’s voice. Then Hnikarr’s laugh, that terrible ice storm of a laugh, rang in her head and mingled somehow with the sound of the baby crying, in a hideous and incongruous harmony.

I will burn the world, and I will laugh as your whole lying race burns with it.

The demon kept laughing, and the child kept crying.

So much for human grace.

Laura almost hoped that Livia was right and Arthur could be turned from his path. She did not see anything but darkness ahead, if Arthur had his way.

Leave A Comment