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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.

Comments

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hanelissar
Jul. 5th, 2011 03:59 pm (UTC)
Oh it's amazing. And Laura! And Charles! My favourites! <3

Thank you so much for this Sarah, it's the perfect ending to go right back to the beginning. And so nice, again, to see more Olivia and Black Arthur and the Circle from an inside perspective.

And thank you again for all the books, and for this wonderful world, and although I can't wait for your new book and the new worlds you're going to create I will always be a little sad to have to say goodbye to this series because I've loved it so much!
sarahtales
Jul. 5th, 2011 04:29 pm (UTC)
Hee. Loads of Laura, and a light dusting of Charles. ;)

I'm so glad you liked the story, and circling back to where it alllll began. I hoped it would be interesting to see that starting place.

Thank you for reading!
harborshore
Jul. 5th, 2011 04:19 pm (UTC)
Oh my god, glorious.
sarahtales
Jul. 5th, 2011 04:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you. :)
elvenjaneite
Jul. 5th, 2011 04:30 pm (UTC)
Wow, it's so neat to see how Hnikkar is and isn't Nick. Also, bebe Alan!
sarahtales
Jul. 5th, 2011 04:33 pm (UTC)
It was fun to write him, and to think about all the ways he was changed and wasn't, too. And baaaaby Alan. The story had to start with them together, in some fashion.
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meredyth_13
Jul. 5th, 2011 04:48 pm (UTC)
I figured I should comment here, 'cause you don't know me from adam on twitter, and 140 characters would never be enough. I wanted to say how amazing it has been to watch your journey from HP days to where you are now. Published, respected, successful, and still uniquely, amazingly you.

I have vastly enjoyed the DL series - finally got to read DS last week. I kept stopping to read out little pieces to my partner, just because I adore your way with words; those particular, quirky turns of phrase you use to give colour and originality to your lovely characters.

All the shipping in the world aside, I adore your Nick. Not because he's pretty and broody and enigmatic. But because I loved how you stayed true to your creation. He was your Frankenstein's monster. Not human, but trapped within a human existence, and battling to shape his innate nature within the framework of Alan's expectations. It was his journey, his difference, that underpinned all the human elements of your stories for me.

Each of your humans were lovely, interesting, layered and problematic people. I cared for them, and agonised over their pains.

But it was how Nick experienced their stories, how he struggled to even comprehend his own fledgling humanity, tiny and insidious as it is, that was the difference, the heart of this series, for me.

And now you've written maybe your last extra, and I selfishly wish that I had more of Nick and Mae - a glimpse of where they travel together, who they become with each other. I kept trying to will Sin's eyes to watch them, her ears to listen - to pick up just a bit more, just a little bit more to colour them in for me. The glimpses you gave us were brilliant, tantalising, fascinating.

Anyway - this isn't the first rambling feedback I've ever left you, and probably won't be the last, because I'm sure you have more joys to bring us in the future. I can't wait to see what you do next.

But as always, thank you.

Edited at 2011-07-05 04:48 pm (UTC)
blackoakdreams
Jul. 5th, 2011 04:52 pm (UTC)
He was your Frankenstein's monster. Not human, but trapped within a human existence

Damn. That's far better way to articulate Nick than I would ever have come up with. *takes notes*
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blackoakdreams
Jul. 5th, 2011 04:51 pm (UTC)
Oh, Olivia. Strong, beautiful Olivia.

I've written four drafts of a reply to this story, and those five words are the only ones that stick. Thank you for the story. I've wondered about Laura, and Olivia, and how this all began. How fitting, to tie this series up with this?

Thank you again.
sarahtales
Jul. 5th, 2011 06:08 pm (UTC)
Sometimes, baby, love just ain't enough. But it wasn't Olivia's fault. (That love wasn't enough--obviously all the killing people, still wrong...)

I'm glad you liked!
anywherebeyond
Jul. 5th, 2011 05:06 pm (UTC)

“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.”


My love for Anzu and Liannan remains undimmed. :D
sarahtales
Jul. 5th, 2011 06:00 pm (UTC)
Anzu and Liannan, throughout this scene: LOL! LOL... wut.
bredalot
Jul. 5th, 2011 05:09 pm (UTC)
Oh holy crap, Alan is good. Also, I love how clearly drawn Daniel is as Alan's father here: that same self-effacing charm, but so much less ruthlessly efficient than Alan's, which has been shaped by a lifetime of lying and necessity.

Thank you for this! It's a cool look into the past. But it makes me so sad to think that it's (probably) the last one, especially as I just finished SURRENDER! Oh well. Looking forward to the new series!
sarahtales
Jul. 5th, 2011 05:59 pm (UTC)
Life would have been a great deal easier if he'd scored Anzu as his baby demon. ;)

Love your description of the charm, and how in Alan's case it is honed: it's very true. Since Alan is only a baby here, I did want us to glimpse who he is--what he will be almost-loved for, by the unlikeliest of creatures--through his kind charming father and his mother, who offers love and protection fiercely.

I hope you guys will like the new series. *nailbites, but happily*
(Anonymous)
Jul. 5th, 2011 05:43 pm (UTC)
Oh poor Hnikarr with his hatred and disdain for liars... :)
sarahtales
Jul. 5th, 2011 06:09 pm (UTC)
How He Stopped Worrying and Learned To Love Those Vile Crawling Deceivers. ;)
herocountry
Jul. 5th, 2011 05:44 pm (UTC)
omg I'm so sad we're at the end of the short stories. I really liked Anzu in this!! Would you ever consider putting the short stories in a volume for sale? A physical copy would be lovely ;_;
sarahtales
Jul. 5th, 2011 06:11 pm (UTC)
Anzu is rather a pet. For a demon, that is. ;)

I might consider it, but self-publishing is tricky (covers and distribution and so on) and I doubt I'm fancy enough to have a volume of my short stories published traditionally. Maybe one day. ;) I'm very flattered that you'd like to have it!
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thegreatmissjj
Jul. 5th, 2011 06:42 pm (UTC)
I love your short stories because there's always at least one gem of a line that gets me:

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.

sarahtales
Jul. 5th, 2011 06:46 pm (UTC)
*beams* I liked that myself, and thought nobody would notice poor Edward, whose problem was like Olivia's, and like Daniel's... all these dire warnings, and yet in Alan's case loving someone worked out.
attackfish
Jul. 5th, 2011 06:47 pm (UTC)
This is one dark story. The only thing that keeps it from being completely bleak is the books. There are two different evils juxtaposed here, the magicians and the demons, and whoa.

Laura thought it was rather gauche to sic demons on people she had been introduced to. The world was full of strangers to kill.

Wow, um, that says it all really. Laura really epitomizes the human, mundane evil. This was the evil that scared me most in this story, the callus, petty, selfishness the magicians have. She's bureaucratic evil.

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.

That's the look of someone who knows the person he cares about doesn't feel a thing for him back. She seems like the kind of person who marries because it's what's expected, not because she loves him or wants to have a family, just because. And she killed him once it wasn't expected anymore. That's very cold.

Also, knowing how Olivia ran back to Daniel, Laura cut off her escape route. Brr.

Then there's the demons:

“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.”


I'm reminded of when Liannan in Covenant told Mae that Anzu had been the most human of the three of them, and Nick the least. There's so much in this exchange, Anzu actually finding the chance at that much time on earth tempting, when the others don't, Hnikarr included. Hnikarr just finds the chance to destroy the world tempting. Which is usually a pretty cartoonish goal, but we know Nick, which makes it genuinely scary.

It all throws what Anzu does in Surrender and Nick's response to it into perspective.

There's also the way Hnikarr is so different from Nick, disturbing as he can be, but has so many things in common, the dark shadow he likes to appear as, his unwillingness to tempt and please, and:

“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.”

He's eerily recognizable. And it shows just how deeply he comes to feel for Alan, who lies all the time, but who, when tested, loves Nick back.

It also says something about just how incredibly loyal Nick becomes. He loathes dishonesty, and disloyalty, so when he starts to show human traits, those are the two vices he rejects.
sarahtales
Jul. 5th, 2011 10:07 pm (UTC)
It's true this story is pretty dark, though I had some fun with Laura's sense of humour. This story is a whole lot of examples of people genuinely loving someone, and trying for them, and believing in them--and it going horribly wrong, whereas against all the odds in the Lexicon series it goes right. ;)

It's a dangerous business, hoping for the strange alchemy of someone loving you back--for someone to love you back enough.

Laura cut off her escape route

It was a pretty deliberate bridge-burning. I feel sorry for Laura, but naturally more so for Edward. Laura is pretty bureaucratic evil - another title I considered was Middle Management in Magic.

One of the things I needed Sin for as a narrator in Surrender, among many, is that she is less messed up and can delineate between the necessary lies and the important truths, which Alan can't differentiate between himself, but said difference was nonetheless the way Alan the liar proved some things previously supposed to be lies true to a demon.

And poor Anzu. Totally the poppet of the demon realm. Hnikarr and Liannan are just so mean, and should give back Anzu's lunch money, by which I may mean his limited but unusual capacity for empathy...
todaythesamesky
Jul. 5th, 2011 06:52 pm (UTC)
Omigosh, this was amazing, and that bit of Marie, oh my heart. Thank you thank you thank you for this (probably) last story-- it was wonderful, and the entire series was wonderful, and you are just wonderful, and oh, I will miss Nick and Alan and Sin and Mae and Jamie (but especially Alan! I am so Team Alan) so much, but I am so looking forward to your next work!
sarahtales
Jul. 5th, 2011 09:46 pm (UTC)
*pleased* I like Marie too. Had she lived, I think Alan would totally have been a mama's boy.

I have my fingers double-triple-crossed people will like my next stuff, but I am so happy you liked this.
(Anonymous)
Jul. 5th, 2011 07:14 pm (UTC)
ASDFGHJKL!
Ohhh my good golly gosh! It has taken me about an hour to read this story as I kept freaking out with its awesomeness and having to take a few minutes to calm down again so that I could read it!

Seriously, this was, just, PERFECT. The most wonderful way to bring all the stories together in a perfect circle, going back to the beginning, to start all over again :D!

So, ever since I read Lexicon when it came out I have been wondering about Hnikarr's form when he would appear in the circles, and this was just spectacular! There are so many things in this story that I just simple adore, and I will probably forget to say about so many of them in my currently overwhelmed state!

However, I really love how all of Hnikarr's names are variations on 'Nick', almost as if 'Nick' is in fact his true name after all :D!
I love how Laura calls the demons 'it', whereas everyone else has always used 'he/she' - it's wonderfully telling about the differences in mindset between the magicians and the other characters.
I think it's so brilliant how Daniel and Marie and Olivia and Arthur and Laura all have these connections and interactions that we never even dreamed of when first reading the books - it's so wonderful that we get to see more of them here (and in your other awesome short story!), although kind of tragic too, knowing what happens to them all.
I love the alliance between Liannan, Anzu and Hnikarr and felt really sorry for poor Anzu when the others laughed at him! I also think it's awesome how Hnikarr hasn't answered to a summons in over a hundred years and all the magicians think he's crazy - he's like the epitomy of the 'Big Bad' (:!
I love that the one of the things Hnikarr seems to hate so much abut humans is the way they lie, and yet he'll end up loving a liar most of all :D!
And finally, coming from that, I think it is just perfect the way you ended with Hnikarr and baby Alan together - ready for it all to start only with Nick as the baby, and just asdfgdjhdsgsklalkaslalalhgafaklsa...!

Okay, I really must stop now, before this completely descends into nonsense!

I truly love this, and you are a genius. Thank-you :D!

-Lauren.
sarahtales
Jul. 5th, 2011 10:13 pm (UTC)
Re: ASDFGHJKL!
Aw, thank you, I am so glad you liked! I thought people might be curious about Hnikarr, who is so important to the story, and who'd never yet really got a chance to make an appearance.

Hnikarr, he just has to get into the whole lying business. And I love the way you anticipate the coming reversal. Not long now, my apocalyptic petal. ;)

Thank you very much for reading!
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moia
Jul. 5th, 2011 07:18 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed reading the story, thank you. :)
sarahtales
Jul. 5th, 2011 09:43 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reading. ;)
dolorosa_12
Jul. 5th, 2011 07:44 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this! It is, as people have said in earlier comments, a fantastic send off to a fantastic series.

May I just say here how happy I am that you wrote The Demon's Lexicon series, and how happy I am to have read them. Thank you.
sarahtales
Jul. 5th, 2011 09:43 pm (UTC)
You're most welcome, and thank you for reading them. I'm so glad you enjoyed.
mirroredroom
Jul. 5th, 2011 09:18 pm (UTC)
YAY! I am so filled with joy!
sarahtales
Jul. 5th, 2011 09:41 pm (UTC)
I am glad!
amori_maris
Jul. 5th, 2011 09:22 pm (UTC)
Oh, so lovely...I'm on the reference desk right now and a little kid just asked me why I was sniffling :)

Beautiful way to say goodbye to this world &hearts
sarahtales
Jul. 5th, 2011 09:41 pm (UTC)
Always guiltily pleased to make people sniffle. ;)
dragonkiri
Jul. 5th, 2011 09:54 pm (UTC)
Oh, I loooove this. :D I've always liked Laura, even though as a commenter above stated, she's "bureaucratic evil". I felt so sad for her at the end of Surrender, remembering the irony of what she said to Gerald about having no interest in being his mother. ;_;

I'm a bit sad that this will probably be the last short story, because of all the people I wanted to see Alan's POV. He's so crucial to, well, everything and he's the only main character whose head we haven't seen inside! So mysterious! *grin*

That said, thank you so so so much for all the freebies! Every extra bit of story in this universe is something to treasure. ♥
sarahtales
Jul. 5th, 2011 10:17 pm (UTC)
I do think Laura ended up loving Gerald, which was a surprise and a terrible punishment for her.

You are very welcome: thank you for reading! I always felt like Alan's pov would be horrific to write, and tricky not to be dull, but I guess you never know when I may feel assailed by a mad desire for that particular challenge...
yanagi_wa
Jul. 5th, 2011 09:55 pm (UTC)
Excellent short. (I do get to gloat here, don't I?) A friend lives in a big city. Her mother went to one of your meet-n'-greet things and came way with, not one, but two autographed copies of the second book. She sent me one!!! *squee* Me so happy.
sarahtales
Jul. 5th, 2011 10:14 pm (UTC)
Aw, how nice of her, and how flattered I am you are pleased! I'm so glad.
malinbe
Jul. 5th, 2011 11:04 pm (UTC)
I just spent the last four days reading the entire trilogy for the first time. It's awesome, Sarah. If I can find time, I would like to writte some sort of review about them, but I love having this opportunity to say thank you and that I really, really enjoyed it. I only regret not being able to buy them as they came out and being able to participate in the fandom. At least, now I can read all the cookies and extras, yay!!

Again, thank you and congratulations on the trilogy accomplished :)
sarahtales
Jul. 5th, 2011 11:10 pm (UTC)
*beams* This is the first time I have heard of someone doing that, and I am so pleased you liked the trilogy, and thank you so much for telling me!
kukla_tko42
Jul. 6th, 2011 12:34 am (UTC)
I want very badly to "Fanfic" you.

I'm not sure I dare to do so though. I'd hate to blunder into your amazing world and knock everything over.
sarahtales
Jul. 6th, 2011 12:46 am (UTC)
You should go right ahead. Though I can't read it, I think fanfic is a great compliment. ;)
tanndell
Jul. 6th, 2011 03:22 am (UTC)
Oh Arthur, if only you had chosen Anzu your life wpild have been so so much easier, but no, you had to be an arrogant mook of a magician and choose the grumpy nasty demon! That in no way impacts my epic love for Nick, but poor bb!Anzu and his concern for Hnikarr (please note that my entire focus in this story is on Anzu and his existential demon angst, he is the Hamlet of demons)
sarahtales
Jul. 6th, 2011 10:30 am (UTC)
Well, Anzu is a bright lad and was not offering, but life would have been easier for everyone if he had. ;)

The Hamlet of demons made me giggle.
writerinchains
Jul. 6th, 2011 03:25 am (UTC)
Thanks for sharing this, it's wonderful! Ever since I finished DL I've wondered about the conversation between Arthur & Hnikarr, how the whole deal came about. Loved Nick/Hnikarr before & now I just adore him!

I've also spent a surprisingly large amount of time wondering about the first kernel of story that turned into this brilliant trilogy. I haven't found an interview/post where you discuss how this world first appeared to you (but my Google-fu could be failing me) so if you have a moment and wouldn't mind, I'd love to know.

Either way, thanks again for the trilogy & all the shorts & cookies. I love shorts & cookies & am looking forward to following the trail through your next world. :)
sarahtales
Jul. 6th, 2011 11:30 am (UTC)
I am pleased to have satisfied your curiosity, and I have my fingers double-crossed you'll like the trip through the next world. ;)

It's always hard to say where the first stuff comes from - incoherent snippets of things, floating around your brain, and bits of other stories alchemised. But it started something like thinking of the idea of the nightmare child (the baby who isn't a baby, or innocent, but monstrous) and making it not the villain, and that melded with the idea of the monstrous hero and how he should be but rarely was presented truthfully. And then, somebody loves the child, but not a mother because the eternal power of mother-love is a story we've heard before and I wanted my ladies doing different stuff. When I was ready to tell my long-suffering friends the story, I started with this: the back story of Nick's genesis. (Their horror and amazement when I said after an hour of talking 'And then the book begins when Nick is sixteen...')
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orexisbella
Jul. 6th, 2011 03:50 am (UTC)
OH ANZU MY POOR PRECIOUS WOOBLET. HNIKARR CAN'T YOU SEE HE LOVES YOU ;_;

I feel like your little gang of demons is like, the pinnacle of omnishippery in a fandom loaded with omnishippers. (Hnikarr/Anzu! Hnikarr/Liannan! Hnikarr/Anzu/Liannan! MY HEART.)

I love how, as someone said upthread, Hnikarr is both so Nick and not Nick. I love Olivia's fragility and her faith in Arthur. Laura is so compellingly, mundanely evil. And I love the glimpses of Daniel and Marie, and wee baby Alan! Also I like to think the lady who saved Stella Davies with her briefcase was Annabel. ;) (Handy with a gold club after all, and of course one cannot forget Mae and her fire extinguisher!)

BUT! But the demons, oh how they steal the show. (LIANNAN: Do you even go here?) I looove how Hnikarr's preference for warm colours carries over into Nick's attraction to Alan's hair and Jamie's hair. THE DEMONS ARE LOVE THAT IS ALL.
orexisbella
Jul. 6th, 2011 03:55 am (UTC)
PS Also, if they ever make a Demon's Lexicon film (fingers crossed), I deeply hope they film this story (well, all of them, but especially this one!) as a DVD extra. OH DEMONS.
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hakkai_duo
Jul. 6th, 2011 04:20 am (UTC)
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.”

AND THEN HE MET ALAN! Whom he wants to please all the time haha

I must say I love that we get to see Hnikarr. It's interesting to see how he relates to Nick. Like you see the ways they are the same, but you also see the human influences and such on Nick more clearly when you compare him to Hnikarr. Even though they are the same person/demon/thing, you can see how they aren't.

I love it!

I love how you tied everything together, it makes me smile. To think this whole thing could have been avoided if Daniel didn't stop to help fix a car. LOL

Thank you soo much for writing this. While I must resist the urge to clutch my computer and sob that this is all over, I am still really grateful to you for providing such amazing stories and such to us fans.

P.s BB!Alan....eeeeee (Also, Hnikarr having a thing for Red Heads made me smile)
sarahtales
Jul. 6th, 2011 10:52 am (UTC)
Yes, being a kind person who helps strangers--or indeed being someone who loves someone else truly--doesn't always work out in this universe, and can in fact go horribly horribly wrong. But sometimes it works out. ;)

I had fun writing Hnikarr! He would be so horrified about what is in store for him, including his sea change. Anzu and Liannan were right to be wary about that business.

Thank you for reading, and I'm so pleased you enjoyed!
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