Lemma the Librarian: The Choice

Check out my Patreon for early access to stories, plus access to exclusive stories ONLY available on Patreon and/or in ebooks.

I struggled desperately, but I couldn’t move. I was tied to
the altar, tightly knotted ropes binding my body completely while covering the minimum
of skin. Other than that, I was naked and helpless.

A man approached, but between his hooded cloak and the
flickering candlelight that provided the only illumination in this dark,
defiled temple, I couldn’t see his face.

“Look up, Lemma,” he said, and his voice sent
tingles up my spine and curled my toes. It was dark, powerful, dangerous, a
voice used to being obeyed. 

I did. Above me was the carven face of a beautiful goddess.
My heart leaped—here was a protector, a savior!

“You and I will complete her defilement, Lemma,”
the man said. His voice was so familiar—but surely if I’d ever heard a voice
that could do that to me, I’d remember it, right? “Right here, you
will surrender to me on her altar, and her power over this place will be broken
completely. I will claim it, and become unstoppable… and you will spend the
rest of your life as my thrall.”

That sounded bad. I tried to struggle against my bonds, but
I couldn’t move a muscle. I was completely, utterly, helpless, and a traitorous
part of me loved it. 

The man reached for me, and stroked the bare skin around my
navel. I groaned; it felt amazing. He continued gently, teasingly touching me
while I instinctively squirmed, or tried to, and the fact that I couldn’t, that
I couldn’t do anything but plead, made it even hotter.

In minutes, his expert teasing reduced me to an incoherent,
pleading, desperate mess. I knew it meant the end of the world, and I knew it
meant I would be a slave—but the part of me that wanted to lose and the part of
me that needed him to fuck me ganged up on my will and tied it up just
as tightly as he had bound my body.

As he entered me, I could feel myself dissolving,
surrendering, and knew that once I came, I would never have any will of my own
again. As he thrust into me, again and again, winding me slowly higher and
tighter, his hood fell back. I looked up, saw Iason’s face—

And came.

I woke up panting, sweaty, and tangled in a twist of sheets.
I carefully disentangled myself and made my way to the washbasin, and splashed
myself. Fuck, I wish this water was colder. But it had been a warm
night, and the day now dawning was going to be a scorcher.

I looked wistfully at my bed. My pussy ached to be touched,
nearly as badly as it had in the dream. It wouldn’t take long, I could probably
finish before anyone else woke up… one quickie couldn’t hurt, right?

But that was the problem—I wasn’t sure it wouldn’t hurt.
Rhoda had felt a dark presence in the town, but it was too big to pin down more
accurately than that, at least not without more to go on. So it was very, very
likely that there was a powerful demon around, and that meant we had to be
cautious about doing anything that might be exploited by any of
the demonic houses. No boasting, no sex, no violence… it had been a stressful
couple of days!

And having that dream for three consecutive nights isn’t
I could barely look at Iason at this point. I’m just lucky
there are no awkwardness demons.

This was Iola’s fault, no question. She was the one who’d
put the idea in my head that I might… well, it was completely absurd, but I
was possessed by a ghost whose unfinished business was a failure to choose
between lovers, and Iola thought that I put the ghost to rest by choosing Iason
over the necromancer using the ghosts to control us.

Ridiculous, of course. I didn’t choose for Iason, I
chose against the necromancer! But I guess it reminded some deep-down
part of me with ridiculously bad taste that Iason was pretty hot
actually, and it linked up with everything else that’s happened to me on this
ridiculous adventure I’ve been on for the last two years, and boom: recurring
sex dream.

That was absolutely, definitely, unquestionably all it was.

Or so I thought until I finally went down to breakfast in
the common room of our inn. Iola and Iason were already there, which was why
I’d waited a while—Iola was usually the first of us to get up, and ever since I
maybe kind of completely betrayed her and nearly subjected her to her worst
nightmare, she’d said a grand total of twelve words to me. (I counted.) Which
was completely unfair—I’d been falling under the control of an evil priest-king
at the time! But I guess Iola thought I could have fought harder, like she was
doing before the aforementioned betrayal… anyway, point was, I didn’t want to
be the first or second person to go down for breakfast, because that meant
sitting alone at a table with Iola, and the thankfully nonexistent awkwardness
demons would’ve had a feast with that.

Anyway, shortly after I sat down, Rhoda slouched in, her
hair in disarray and face flushed. As she slumped into a chair, Iason asked
her, “You all right?”

“Yeah,” she said. “I had a rough night. Weird
“You too?” asked Iason. “I’ve been having the strangest dreams
since we got here.”

I froze. Very, very carefully, trying to sound casual, I
asked, “What were you dreaming about?”

Rhoda blushed. “Um, just someone I knew back in Alba.
We, uh… well, it was intense, let’s just say that.” She took a long pull
from her mug and tried to avoid our eyes.

“Ah,” said Iola. “You mean sex.”
Rhoda sprayed her drink across the table and started choking. “Iola!”

“I’ve been having similar dreams,” Iola said.
“Intense, sexual, not memories, more like fantasies I’d once entertained,
but more vivid than I ever imagined them.”

“Yeah,” Iason said. “I’ve been having dreams
kind of like that, too. Um, not really fantasies, but about someone I, uh,

“Who’s that?” Iola asked evenly.
Iason glanced at me and flushed.

No way, I thought, though a part of me was jumping up
and down and cheering inside my head, while another part curled up into a ball
and tried to sink through the floor. I could feel the heat in my face and knew
I must be blushing crimson.

“So clearly Lemma had the dream, too,” said Iola.
“That can’t be a coincidence.” Rhoda looked serious. “All of us
having intense dreams that started the moment we entered the town? Especially
with the demonic energies here? It’s gotta be a demon—some of them can tempt
you in dreams, you know. Actions in a dream don’t count as choices so they
can’t actually gain power over you, but they can get you riled up and hope you
make the choices they want once you wake.”

“There was… a shrine of some kind in my dream,”
said Iola. “I was supposed to protect it, but my—but the person I knew was
trying to get me to stop fighting and enjoy myself instead.”

“A temple,” said Rhoda. “He wanted me to let
him into the temple, and then we could—you know.”

Iason and I glanced at each other. “Mine was inside a
temple too,” he said. “Lemma was tied up on the altar, and if I—well,
if we, you know, then the temple would be… destroyed or something, I

“Defiled,” I said. “We all had the same
dream, different parts of the same story. A demon enters a temple, claims a
sacrificed soul on its altar, and takes over the temple.”

“But demons can’t enter temples,” Rhoda

“They can with help,” said Iason. “Remember
how we got Sonneillon in that ziggurat?”

“Well, then it’s clear what we have to do,” Rhoda
said, and stood up on her chair, one arm extended to point up and forwards.
“We must find the temple in our dreams, and the demon threatening it!
We’ll vanquish the evil like the heroes we are!”

“Um, yeah,” I said. “Except we’re not here to
fight demons, we’re here to find the book used to summon them. Even if we did
find this demon and beat it, whoever has the book could just summon them

“Oh,” said Rhoda, deflated.

“Finding this temple still seems like as good an idea
as any,” said Iola. “Unless you’ve had some sudden insight into where
this book might be?”

Was I imagining it, or was there just a touch of nastiness
in her voice when she asked me that question? She knew I was frustrated—my
ability to sense the stolen books had grown recently, but I was having the same
problem as Rhoda. This book was too powerful—trying to find it, now that I was
this close, was like trying to figure out which direction the wind was blowing
in the middle of a tornado. “No,” I admitted. “We might as well
look at the local temples and see if any match our dreams.”

We decided to try the nearest temple first, and the minute
we saw it, Iola recognized it. “This is the temple I was defending in the

“Is anyone else getting a little creeped out by
this?” I asked.

“Brave comrades!” Rhoda cried, and I rolled my
eyes. “We must press on with courage, learn the meanings of our dreams,
and defeat the evil that lurks here! To the temple!”

Trying to ignore the passers-by staring at Rhoda, we walked
up to the temple. As we did, I hurried my steps a little so I could walk next to
her, and quietly asked, “This could be a trap, you know.”

She shook her head. “I can feel the temple,” she
said. “Or more accurately, I can’t. It’s free of demonic

Which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe, I thought,
but it was still a good sign, at least. We reached the heavy bronze gates, and
a woman’s voice from inside called out to us, “Hold, strangers! Identify

“Travelers from a distant land on a quest against
evil!” Rhoda announced before I could stop her. “We seek wisdom and council.”

There was a brief whispered conversation from inside—at
least two people, one of whom sounded very urgent, but I couldn’t make out what
they were actually saying. “Only those in the good graces of the gods may
walk these hallowed grounds!” the voice announced. “You must all
swear before you enter that you are not under the influence or control of dark
powers! In the name of Inara the Huntress, Queen of Beasts, Protector, Slayer
of Dragons…”

The litany of titles went on for a while. I could see Rhoda
getting excited—they probably had her at “Slayer of Dragons.”

Eventually, they finished off all of Inara’s titles.
“…the Beautiful and Courageous, swear that you are free people come in
good faith, not puppets of darkness, and may Ishara the Binding, Goddess of the
Oath, the Promise, and the Contract hold you to your word!”

“Uh… yeah,” I said. “We swear.”

There were general noises of agreement. Rhoda looked ready
to give another of her little speeches, but I glared at her and she just said,
“I swear!”

The gate opened, just wide enough to let one person in, and
we entered. A moment later, it slammed shut behind us. We found ourselves in a
shady, tree-lined courtyard. A fountain bubbled away nearby, and I kid you not,
there were a couple of deer visible through the trees on the far side.
Two women stood here, both dressed in white robes with colored trim—one blue,
the other black. “Take them to see Annella, Henti,” said the one with
black trim, who was a little older and a lot sterner-looking.

Iason did a double-take at the name, I noticed, but I didn’t
think much of it. Henti led us across the courtyard to the temple proper, where
we found—well, we found the altar and statue from my dream. It was exactly the
same, except a bit better lit, and also I wasn’t tied up, naked, and lying on
the altar begging for Iason to fuck me.

Also a woman was kneeling in prayer in front of the altar.
As we entered, she rose and turned. She was about twice my age, a hair taller
than me, with long dark-red hair braided and coiled on top of her head. Her
eyes were dark and deep, her cheekbones high, and her lips full. Despite the
worry lines creasing her brow, she was quite beautiful, even in the simple,
unadorned white robe she was wearing.

She stared at us like she was seeing a ghost.

No, not at us. At Iason.

“Annella?” Iason said. “Is it really

Iola looked puzzled a moment, then gave a rare smile.
“Annella? Aunt Annella?”

She blinked in surprise. “Nobody’s called me Aunt
Annella since… Iola, is that you?” she asked. “Then… you can’t be
little Iason, can you? You look just like your father!”

She laughed, the regal priestess dropping away as she rushed
forward to pull Iason and Iola into a hug.

I waited patiently, by which I mean I tapped my foot as
opposed to, say, burning down the temple. “So… who is this
exactly?” I asked.

“Oh, right!” said Iason. “Sorry, this is
Annella. She was my father’s, uh…”

“It’s okay,” Annella said, patting Iason on the
arm. “I was his sidekick,” she said. “On many adventures, over
many years. The first time, I was just an acolyte… he came to the temple
seeking an adamant blade to fight the creatures besieging his home.”

“I loved this story when I was a kid,”
Iason said. “The two of you traveled into the far north to find a fallen
star, then brought it back here to be forged.” He drew the sword and held
it out to Annella, hilt first.

I was surprised, but it made sense. Lemuria kept the secrets
of iron pretty well, but there were a few other cultures that knew how to work
it, just not how to make it—I didn’t know the details myself, but I knew that
you couldn’t just dig up iron and make things out of it, you needed to prepare
it first. But apparently this “fallen star"—I wondered what it really
was—was a source of workable iron? I’d have to report that when I got home—it
probably didn’t mean anything if they had to go on lengthy quests to get enough
to make one sword, but I still shuddered to imagine the damage an army with
iron weapons could do.

"The sword!” Annella said, surprised. Then she
looked sad. “So… Isidoros is…”

Iason nodded. “A few years ago. Firewyrm bite got
infected, and the fever took him.”

“I’m sorry,” said Annella, and I could tell she
genuinely was. “Your father was a good man. Strong, gentle, generous… he
was my first lover, you know.”

“What!?” Iola replied, scandalized.

“Oh, once we vanquished the Hill Beasts and he married
your mother, he was completely faithful to her. But before that, those long,
cold northern nights…” Annella smiled wistfully. “Anyway, that was
long ago and far away. What brings you and your friends here?”

We explained about the book, and the possible demon, and she
nodded sagely.

“It would explain quite a bit,” she said.
“For years now, we’ve felt a dark presence growing in this city. A
corruption. We worked to contain it—the priesthood, the rulers of the city,
their enforcers. But we were never able to completely root it out, and in
recent months it’s grown more and more powerful. Our sister temples—of Ishara,
goddess of contracts, marriage, and love, and Telipinu the fertility god—have
fallen to the darkness, desecrated and perverted. The city’s rulers, its
leading merchants, the corruption spreads farther and faster every day.”

“That’s horrific,” said Rhoda. “We must find
the source of this evil and destroy it!”

“Easier said than done,” said Annella. “It is
very good at hiding itself. But… four heroes, here to destroy it? And now
you’ve made contact with the last temple holding out against it? It’ll come
after you soon enough, I’m sure.”

Rhoda grinned fiercely. “And then we’ll have it!”

Somehow, I doubt it’ll be that easy, I thought.

* * *

About five minutes after we left the temple, the demon
showed itself to us.

Well, not exactly. What happened was, we were walking along,
trying to figure out what to do next, when a passing woman said, “Will you
dream of her tonight, Iason?”

We stopped short.

“What?” asked Iason.

The woman’s smile was creepy—broad, sadistic, totally
mismatched with her blank, disinterested eyes. “Will your dream change?
Will it be the priestess tonight? The one you were supposed to call your aunt,
the one you imagined as a boy, the first time you—”

Iason drew his sword. “What are you?” he demanded.

The woman laughed cruelly. “Will you slay a simple
woman for the crime of speaking to you, oh great warrior?”

“You’re no woman,” said Rhoda. “Not anymore.
You’re just a dybbuk, a puppet of evil!”

“I am a part of something greater than you can
comprehend,” the woman said. “But you will understand soon enough.
Now, will you let me go on my way, or will you strike me down in broad daylight
on a public street?”

With a frustrated growl, Iason sheathed his sword, and the
woman walked off, still laughing.

Auntie Anni?” Iola asked incredulously.
“You did it to her?”

“I was twelve!” Iason protested. “And she was
this beautiful, mysterious woman from a foreign land who went on adventures
with father, can you blame me?”

“Can we maybe talk about anything other than
preteen Iason’s masturbation fantasies?” I asked. “Like… the fact
that we were just taunted by a demon?”

“Dybbuk,” Rhoda corrected.

“What is that?” asked Iola.

“Someone under a demon’s control,” I said.

“Not exactly,” Rhoda replied. “A dybbuk isn’t
just controlled by a demon, it’s someone who’s surrendered their soul completely
and had it devoured. Their mind, their memories, their skills all remain… but
with no soul, they have no will, no compassion, no love, no desires. It’s not them
anymore, it’s the demon thinking with their mind, walking with their legs,
speaking with their voice.”

“That’s horrific,” said Iola, shuddering.

“But why?” I asked. “Why come here just to
taunt Iason, if it’s so good at hiding?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“But it’s made a fatal mistake!” Rhoda cried,
getting fervent again. “I felt its presence in that dybbuk, I know exactly
what to look for now—which means if the person who summoned it is still alive
and ensouled, I can find them!”

I grinned. “And wherever that person is, the book will
probably be there too!”

“And a powerful demon who is probably just luring us
into a trap,” Iola observed darkly.

“Don’t worry,” said Rhoda. “Sonneillon is
waiting for my call, and we’ve got Lemma’s magic, your and Iason’s fighting
skill, and that sword—we’ll be ready!”

I hope.

* * *

Rhoda led us to a large house on the south side of the city,
near the wall. Large, but decrepit—the house was crumbling, dark, and dirty,
surrounded by a sense of decay and loss.

“This is the place,” she said. “Our summoner
is in there.”

“And possibly our demon, too,” Iola warned.
“Keep sharp, and don’t let it get to you.” She gave me A Look.

“Yeah,” I said. “Let’s go.”

The gate was in as bad shape as the rest of the house, and
we were able to get in easily. The courtyard was dusty, the mosaic tiles
beneath our feet cracked, with grasses and weeds growing up between them. Ahead
lay the house itself, and it looked completely abandoned.

We passed through a dark anteroom into a larger room,
furnished with dusty, decaying low couches—some kind of sitting room, perhaps.
Several rooms led off from it, rotting, cobwebby curtains hanging in their
doorways; the first we tried seemed to be some kind of study, but the parchment
scrolls on the shelves were crumbling and worm-eaten.

“This place looks like it’s been abandoned for
years,” Iason said unnecessarily.

“Are you sure the warlock is here?” I asked Rhoda.

“Positive,” she said. “They’re alive and
still a person, too.”

We finally found someone in the next room, a bedroom. It was
very slightly less decayed and filthy than the rest of the house, but not by
much—but there was a shriveled little old man with a long, tangled white beard
on the bed, huddling under the covers for warmth despite how hot the day was.

When he saw us, he cringed away. “No, please no,”
he said. “Not new servants, I can’t take it! Please, no more, just leave
me to die in peace!”

“We’re not servants!” I assured him.

“No,” said Rhoda, “we’re heroes!”

“Well, some of us might be,” Iola muttered.

“Heroes?” asked the old man. “What new
trickery is this?”

“No tricks,” I assured him, glaring at Iola.
“We’re looking for someone, a warlock.”

The old man laughed thinly. “Warlock?” he said.
“I suppose I am at that, at least technically.”

“You?” Rhoda asked incredulously. “You
summoned a demon as powerful as I’m feeling?”

“I wasn’t always this old,” the man said. “I
was even young, once, briefly.” His voice turned bitter. “But I
wasted it. I was a scholar, obsessed with knowledge. I learned everything I
could, collected rare and unusual tomes on every subject there was, but I did
nothing. And one day, suddenly, I wasn’t young anymore.”

“So what, you summoned a demon to make you young?”
I asked.

“No,” the man said. “That wasn’t when I
summoned him. I was content to age on—I worked as a scribe for a wealthy
merchant, but I found the work easy and finished it quickly, leaving me time
for my books and money to purchase them. I was happy… until the day I saw
perfection. His daughter had been away, living with her mother’s family, and
when she returned she was no longer a child but a woman—and I remembered I was
a man. But she was too young, too beautiful, too rich for an old scribe like
me… But I was mad for her, and in my madness, I sought help. I summoned a
demon from the book, one with power over over the desires of women: Ashmodai.”

Rhoda was struck with a sudden coughing fit. “Ashmodai!?
You’re kidding, right?”

“Is that… bad?” asked Iason.

“Bad? Ashmodai is one of the oldest, most senior, most
powerful incubi there is! He’s a lieutenant of Lilith herself!”

“So bad,” Iason said, nodding sagely.

“Ashmodai has no power over men,” the old man
said, and shuddered. “But women… he enslaved the object of my desire,
and used her to manipulate me. The more I acted on my lust for her, the more of
a grip he gained—enough to hold me here while he enslaved all the women of the
household, then used them against the men, then spread his corruption across
the city…”

“…and I could do it a lot faster if you would just
summon some helpers for me,” said a voice from the doorway.

We all turned to look, of course. A woman of about thirty
stood there, pretty enough but not really remarkable. But I saw how the old man
looked at her, and I knew she was the girl from his story.

“Of course!” Rhoda cried. “Your wicked scheme
is revealed, demon! You know a dybbuk can’t do magic, so even after you turned
the woman he loved into a dybbuk herself, you couldn’t just use his lust for
her to devour his soul! You need it intact!”

“Yes, yes,” said the dybbuk. “Even for a
hero, your bombast is insufferable, girl.”

Iola drew her sword. “If we kill her, then the demon
can’t use her to torment the old man.”

The dybbuk smirked. “Or it finally breaks him
completely, and he summons an army for me.”

I wanted to burn that smug look off her face. I almost
did… but then I stopped. “Come on,” I said. “We’re

“Lemma?” Iason asked. “Are you sure?”

The dybbuk’s smile flickered when he said my name. What
the hell was that? Surprise, but was it a good surprise or a bad one for the
Either way, it made me certain I didn’t want to stick around.

“Definitely. We’re leaving.”

Iola stayed where she was, sword drawn. “Or I strike
her down where she stands, and the demon has one less puppet.”

“Iola, no. We’re leaving,” I said.

“You don’t give me orders!” she snapped. The
dybbuk watched, smiling its creepy, infuriating smile.

“Lemma’s right,” said Iason. “Come on.”

We fled back to the temple, but I could feel Iola glaring at
my back the whole way. They made us swear again before they let us back in, but
finally we were in the shrine, safely away from any demonic ear.

“What was that?” Iola demanded. “Is giving up
your solution to everything now?”

“Shut up!” I snapped. “Something wasn’t right
there. Remember what the old man said? Ashmodai has no power over men.”

“Yeah,” said Rhoda. “Ardatlili told me about
it once. According to her, most people have at least the capacity to
feel desire for anyone, even if it’s small or deeply buried. But when he was
human, Ashmodai had no desire for men at all, which means as an incubus he
can’t directly manipulate men’s lust.”

Iason smacked a fist into his hand. “That’s why that
dybbuk taunted me specifically, because I’m immune to him!”

“Not exactly,” said Rhoda. “He can’t use his
powers to make you lust, but if you act on lust in his presence, he can still
gain control over your soul.”

“Hmm,” I said. “That might be it, then, but I
doubt it.”

“Might be what?” Iola asked testily. “Just
quit playing around and tell us what you want to tell us!”

“Remember what Annella told us? He’s already corrupted
two temples, a love goddess and a fertility god. Male god—and correct me
if I’m wrong, but around the Inner Sea, that means male priests,

“Yeah,” said Iason, slowly, as comprehension
dawned. “So how did he get control of them? Seducing them with

“It would be very slow and inefficient,” said
Rhoda. “Why not go after the other priestesses first, since that would be
easier for him?”

“That’s the question,” I said. “In the
meantime… we know it’s Ashmodai.” I turned to Rhoda. “You’re our
demon expert. What does that mean, strategy-wise?”

She considered a moment. “I don’t think I can summon
anything strong enough to take him on directly,” she said. “But if we
can get him exposed and hurting, well… incubi aren’t known for their combat
skills. Even one as powerful as Ashmodai could be destroyed by a mid-level
wrath demon like Sonneillon, if he didn’t see the attack coming.”

I nodded. “Here’s what I’m thinking. We go back
tonight, under darkness. Dybbuks still need to sleep, right? And they only have
the capabilities of a human body?”

Rhoda nodded. “Except for being part of the
demon,” she said. “Anything one sees, they all see—but they can’t see
better than they did as a human, and they’re not any stronger.”

“Okay,” I said. “So we go back to the
warlock’s house tonight and look for the book. Maybe there’ll be something in
there that can help us fight Ashmodai. Otherwise, well, at least we’ve
accomplished that much.”

I turned to Iason. “If it comes to a fight, well,
Ashmodai can’t control you, and you have that sword. You’re going to have to be
our point man.”

He nodded. “I’ll do whatever it takes,” he said
firmly. “We can do this.”

* * *

That night, under cover of darkness, we made our way to the
warlock’s decaying house—or the house of his old master, more likely. We
sneaked over the wall and across the courtyard, then into the anteroom, moving
quietly and sticking to the shadows. We slipped silently into the dark sitting
room, and then—

“Welcome,” said a voice. I recognized it
immediately as the voice from my dream. It was rich, deep, resonant; it didn’t
just enter through my ears but rather my entire body, vibrating through me like
a pulse of dark energy. Just the sound of it was like the caress of an expert

“You’re him,” I said. “Ashmodai.”

“Yes,” he said, and the word rolled through me
like a storm—it was electric and made me wet.

I raised my hands to cast a spell, and Iola drew her sword,
while Rhoda opened her mouth to call Sonneillon in to aid us.

“I don’t think you want to do that,” he said, and
every syllable was a kiss on my neck, a feather-light touch on that one spot on
my belly that makes my toes curl. The spell I was trying to remember danced
away from me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Iola’s blade waver and Rhoda’s
mouth drop open.

Then Iason charged past us, screaming some ancient battlecry
that caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up, and not for the
reason Ashmodai’s voice did. He brought his sword down hard, two-handed, right
on Ashmodai’s soldier.

Ashmodai just stood there, his expression calm, the sword
seemingly not even penetrating his skin. As we just stood there, it began to
glow a dull red, and Iason kept trying to force it into Ashmodai. The sword
glow grew brighter, shading from red to yellow, and then Iason cried out and
dropped the increasingly hot sword.

“Well, that’s it for that plan,” Ashmodai said.
“Any of you lovely ladies want to take a crack at me?”

I could barely stand to look at him, but looking away was
even harder. He was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen, almost perfection—a
little less buff than I prefer, and paler, but still a jawdropping specimen of
manhood. Dark, tousled hair, dark eyes, naked to the waist, and if his top half
looked that good I couldn’t wait to see what was below.

“No?” he asked, and I bit my lip as waves of
desire flowed through me. “Then, I think, we should have some fun…”

“Wait!” said Iason. “I’m the one who’s a
threat to you, right? The one you can’t control?”

Ashmodai laughed. “A threat? You couldn’t even scratch
me with your toy!”

“But that doesn’t matter, does it?” said Iason.
“I’m someone you can’t control—and you don’t like that. Well, let them go,
and I’ll stay here and you can figure out how to try to break me just like that
old man.”

“Iason, are you crazy!?” I snapped as it suddenly
registered on me what I was saying.

“But soon I will have all four of you anyway,” he
said, and I felt the pleasure and arousal rising and falling with his voice,
the aching desperate need to reach out and touch him, to lie back and spread my
legs and—

“No!” I shouted. “Iason, don’t do

"It’s okay,” he said. “I know you’ll be back
for me.”

“Hang on now,” said Ashmodai. “I never said—”

Iason tackled him. It didn’t do much—Ashmodai might be less
muscular, but he was a powerful demon, not a human. Still, it shut Ashmodai up
for a moment—a moment in which I couldn’t do anything, because with Iason
grappling him I couldn’t get a clear shot on Ashmodai.

Iola found a use for it, diving and rolling for the sword
Iason had dropped. She came up facing away from Ashmodai and made a break for
it. “He’s right, dammit!” she shouted. “We need to get away from

“No!” I shouted. “I’m not just abandoning
Iason! I’ll think of something!”

Rhoda grabbed my arm. “You will,” she said.
“But not here and now.”


But they dragged me out while Iason struggled with Ashmodai,
slowly getting pushed back. It was only a matter of time until Ashmodai pinned
him—time that Iola and Rhoda forced me to use fleeing.

* * *

“What the FUCK, you two!?” I demanded once we were
back in the safety of the temple.

“Language, please,” said a bored acolyte before
returning to her book.

“We were getting nowhere,” said Rhoda. “Iason
sacrificed himself so we could get away, and I wasn’t about to deny that

“Shut up with the hero bullshit!” I shouted at
Rhoda. “Iason isn’t a sacrifice! Four of us walked in and three walked
out, and you want to act like that’s a good thing, you sick

Iola slapped me, hard. “Shut up and listen to us! We’re
getting him back! We just need a way to plan how, because going face-to-face
with Ashmodai clearly isn’t going to work.”

“Bitch,” I growled, “you do that again and
you won’t have enough hand left to do it a third time.”

“Dammit Lemma, listen. What we need is info, and Iason’s
given it to us! Remember when you used my hair to talk to him? Use it to look
and listen!”

My jaw dropped. “That… that could work…” I
said. But he’s mine, I can’t let him be taken from me! I forced
the thought down. “Yeah, this just might be what we need! Let me have some
hair and I’ll see what I can do.”

Iola handed me a hair from her head, and I concentrated.
Illusions aren’t exactly my specialty, but with a little effort and a silver
bowl Annella was kind enough to provide, I was able to create a sort of
one-way-window through which we could see and hear Iason’s surroundings.

“All you need to do is give in,” said a woman’s
voice, and I clenched my fist. Iason would hold out against seductive dybbuks,
right? He had to.

“Please…” groaned a voice, and it wasn’t Iason’s—it
was the old man’s. “Walani…”

“Please what, Mutallu?” the woman, Walani I guess,
murmured teasingly. “Please stop, or please more?”

Old man Mutallu groaned again. “I don’t, I don’t know!
I need, need to—”

“All these years you’ve wanted me,” she said.
“The things you did, the horror you unleashed to have me… well you can.
Just admit you want it…”

“Gahhhhh… yes! Yes, I want it, I want you, I’ve
always wanted you, please, before I’m too old even to try, come here, let me—no!”

Walani spun out of Mutallu’s reach. “No,” she
said. “There’s something you need to do first.”

The picture was getting clearer by the second. We could see
Mutallu close his eyes and whimper. “Please no, don’t make me—”

“Yes,” Walani said, running her hands over
Mutallu’s chest. “It’s such a simple, easy thing… we just need the
ingredients…” Her hands slid lower, between his legs, and he moaned.

They were both naked, we could see now, as we watched Walani
jack off Mutallu. It took a while, during which Iason tried to look at
everything else in the room—the bonds tying him to the foot of the bed,
the ceiling, the floor, we got good views of all of them.

Finally Mutallu gasped, Walani cooed, and it was over.

“Fuck,” said Rhoda. “They’re going to have
him summon another lust demon for them.”

“Let’s go!” I said, getting up.

“No,” said Rhoda. “We need to know which

So we watched as Mutallu directed Walani in how to draw a
circle, mix the ingredients for the summons, and then finally to cast it. But
before he could, she stopped him.

“We told you who to summon before, but we’ve changed
our minds. There’s someone else, someone who would make a far better partner
for the particular tasks at hand… we want you to summon Ardatlili.”

“Oh… fuck,” I said.

“Who is that?” asked Iola.

“It is possible that I may have gotten a
succubus to swear eternal hatred against me.”

“Only one?” Iola asked dryly.

“So far, that I know of.” My eyes narrowed as I
glared down at the image in the bowlful of water. As Ardatlili formed from the
goop in the center of the circle, Ashmodai entered the room. “I might be
adding some more today.”

The goop finished forming into the shape of a woman.
“That’s not Ardatlili!” I said. “She was taller, curvier—did
they screw up?" 

"No,” said Rhoda, “it’s her. Succubi and
incubi sense the desires of their target and shape themselves to match. Look at
her—doesn’t she look like a younger version of Walani?”

As we watched, Ardatlili walked up to Mutallu and straddled
him. He groaned and arched his back as she stroked her fingertips down his
chest. Despite his age and the fact that he’d just come a few minutes ago, he
was soon hard and inside her again. We watched in horrified fascination—well,
at least that’s why I was watching, I don’t know about Iola and Rhoda—as
the light left his eyes and Ardatlili absorbed his soul.

“As efficient as ever, I see,” said Ashmodai. He
wasn’t actually present, and the illusion of his voice didn’t carry the magic
of his real voice, so he just looked and sounded like an incredibly hot guy
with a deep, sexy voice.

It was still pretty bad, and by bad I mean fuck.

“My lord Ashmodai,” Ardatlili said, making a
teasing little curtsy. She held the pose and looked up at Ashmodai through her
eyelashes. “I’m surprised and pleased you thought of me.”

“Well,” he said. “Even here in the mortal
plane, I learned of your… interest in a certain mortal.”

Ardatlili straightened and her eyes flashed with rage.
She’s here?”

“That she is,” he said. “And you’ll be
keeping her from interfering with me. But first, I must ensure your
loyalty…” He threw himself suddenly on her, pulling her into a
passionate kiss, and Rhoda gasped.

“What is it?” asked Iola.

“He’s going to make her a vassal!” she said.
“I’ve heard of it, but…”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“Demons don’t normally fight each other,” Rhoda
explained. “It’s really rare.”

Iola looked at the image of the two demons tangling
together, kissing, licking, stroking, squeezing with obvious hunger. “That
doesn’t look much like fighting." 

"For succubi and incubi it is,” Rhoda replied.
“That’s how they feed and make dybbuks, remember?”

“So what?” I asked. “They’re trying to turn
each other into dybbuks?”

“Not exactly.” Rhoda quickly explained what was
happening. Apparently demons have a hierarchy based on power, seniority,
influence—the usual stuff. But a demon can also bind a weaker demon into their
service more tightly by making them a vassal—the two demons drain each
other of the power they’ve collected by stealing human souls, and whichever
comes out stronger in the end gains control of the weaker one, at least until
they become strong enough to break free.

“Ashmodai is way stronger than Ardatlili,” Rhoda
said. “There’s no way she can win. But if he wants her to fight us, he
needs to leave her with enough strength to stand a chance… and the stronger
she is, the more effort he’s going to have to put into keeping her on her

“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” I

Rhoda nodded. “He can just drain Ardatlili again
whenever he feels like it, so if the two of them keep collecting souls, in the
long run this makes him much, much stronger—but right now he’ll be
weakened and distracted. Now is the time for us to strike against the very
source of evil!”

I nodded. “Let’s go. This time we take him!”

Iola stood, still holding Iason’s sword, and I shook my
head. “No,” I said. “You need to stay here.”

Iola stared at me. “What? No, we need to hit him
with everything we have!”

“Iason couldn’t even scratch him with that
sword! Even if he’s weakened, magic is going to be the only way to go

“Besides,” Rhoda added, “he said he was going
to send Ardatlili after us, and that dybbuk earlier was waiting right outside
the temple for us. He knows to send her here, and if the priestesses tell her
we’re not here, she’ll assume they’re lying. What happens to them if she’s able
to break in?”

“Somebody has to protect these women,” I said.
“Most of the city’s leaders are dybbuks, remember? It’s going to be up to
these priestesses to rebuild once we take out Ashmodai. I’ve fought Ardatlili,
she’s nowhere near as powerful as Ashmodai, but these women still don’t stand a
chance. But you, with that sword? You can take her.”

“I don’t—” Iola began. “My brother—”

“You’re a monster hunter,” I told her. “You protect
people. I’m a fire specialist, I burn them. Rhoda’s a warlock, she knows demons
inside and out. So you do the protecting, we’ll burn the demon out of his

“All right,” Iola said. “I’ll do it.”

In the silence that followed, Rhoda and I turned to go, but
we had barely reached the door when Iola spoke again. “Lemma.”

I turned to face her. “Yeah?”

She took a deep breath, then closed her eyes and let it out
slowly. Then she looked me in the eye and said, “Don’t fuck up this time.
Iason’s counting on you.”

I nodded. “Don’t worry. I’ll kick that demon’s ass and
have Iason back here in no time!”

“All right,” I said as we left the temple.
“So… any ideas for a plan?”

“What do you mean?” asked Rhoda. “The demon
has our friend! We go in, destroy evil, and rescue the righteous!”

“Sure,” I said. “Great. But how?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” said Rhoda. “I thought you
understood demons? They’re evil, they can only get you if you do evil,
and we’re good guys, so we don’t.”

I stopped dead in the street and stared at her.

“What?” she asked.

“You…” I sputtered. “How are you not
already in some demon’s thrall?”

“Because I’m a good guy,” she repeated slowly and
with emphasis. “So I don’t do evil, so they can’t get me.”

“But he’s a lust demon! You can’t just… not get horny!”

“Oh sure,” said Rhoda. “But since I’m a good
guy, I just don’t do anything about it.” She reddened a little. “Not
until later, anyway.”

I shook my head. “That’s insane. We need more plan than

Rhoda shrugged. “If you want.”

I can’t believe I’m the one arguing for caution
“Okay, how’s this. You call in your demon and attack the place
from the front.”

“As true heroes always do!”

“Right. And while you’re doing that, I sneak
over the wall and rescue Iason while everyone’s distracted.”

“And then we converge to slay the demon?” Rhoda

“Then we run like hell back to the temple. If we make
it that far, I’ll let you know what’s next after that.”

“Hrmm,” said Rhoda. “I suppose it would
be better to have the whole team together before we truly confront him again…
all right. Let’s do this.”

The streets were deserted as we made our way to the house
where we’d found Ashmodai. That worried me. Where was everyone? Had the
corruption spread so far already? Ashmodai had had barely an hour since he got Ardatlili’s
help, surely the two of them couldn’t do that much in that time, could

I really hoped not.

As we neared the house, Rhoda whispered Sonneillon’s name.
He’d been waiting, just off the mortal plane, and popped in immediately. She
directed him to smash the gate, and they were off.

Once I heard shouts from inside as Sonneillon ripped into
people, I made my way around to the back. The wall around the place was old and
poorly maintained, as I’d hoped—between cracks and creeping vines I was able to
climb it easily.

I dropped down at the rear of the house. Unless they’d moved
him, by my reckoning Iason should have been just on the other side of the wall
of the house’s own wall, but I couldn’t just blast through it without
attracting attention. I would have to be subtle.

Well. Subtle for me.

I laid my palm flat against the wall, concentrated, and let
loose with fire—but slowly. It was a pain in the ass keeping that tight
a lid on it, but I managed it, letting the heat and destruction spread out
painfully slowly, over a minute or two instead of a fraction of a second.

It worked; a section of wall burned away to ash with no
flame and barely a sound. I stepped through and looked around.

“Mmm-mmma!” Iason gasped. He was bound and gagged,
stripped to his waist and tied to a chair.

“Iason!” I whisper-shouted, then rushed over to
him and pulled out the gag.

“Oh, thank goodness you’re here, Lemma,” he said.
“The things they did to me…” His eyes were large and distant, like
he was seeing something bright and terrible somewhere else entirely.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ve got you now.
We’ll get you out of here and regroup.” I waved a hand and let loose a
spark, which burned through the ropes holding him.

He stood and pulled me into a hug. “I wasn’t
worried,” he said. “I knew you would rescue me, Lemma.”

I looked up at him, feeling his strong arms around his
shoulders. My hands were pinned against his chest by my own body, and I could
feel his warmth, the beating of his heart, the hardness of his muscles under my

His face was very close to mine. His lips, lips I’d seen a
thousand times, warm-looking and inviting, just like his dark eyes. The
heroine’s reward…
I thought, leaning up into him.

My eyes drifted shut. I could feel the warmth of his breath
as he drew nearer—and my eyes snapped open again as I pulled out of his grip.
“You’re not Iason,” I said.

Ashmodai laughed, a chilling, cruel, mirthless sound to hear
coming out of Iason’s broad, friendly face. “Oh, well done,” he said.
“You were so very close to giving in… I see why Ardatlili had
trouble with you.”

“Rhoda—” I started.

“—is fighting dybbuks,” he said. “She will
soon realize they are not me, but too late.”

“Where’s Iason?” I demanded. “Give him to me
now, or die.”

Ashmodai laughed again. “You think to threaten me? Your
magic cannot harm me. Your iron blade cannot scratch me, even wielded by that
musclebound oaf whose form I borrowed. Your demon cannot even handle being
ambushed by twenty of the city guard, and without him, your warlock is nothing.
Speaking of…”

There was a commotion at the door to the room, and then
three people dragged Rhoda in, kicking and screaming.

“You knew we were coming,” I said. “You knew
what we were planning.”

“You cannot outsmart me,” he said. “I have
devoured three thousands of this city’s souls. Six thousand eyes with which to
see, six thousand ears with which to hear, three thousand minds with which to
ponder upon what they perceive. No mortal mind can best me, no mortal power
harm me…” He reached out and stroked a finger from my temple, down my
cheek, along the line of my jaw to my chin, and then tilted my face up to look
at him. “No mortal will can resist me.”

I practically creamed on the spot. I had never imagined Iason
acting like this—well okay, maybe I’d imagined it, once or twice, in a
dream—and it was amazing. He was a good-looking man, I think we’ve established
that, but kind of a doof. Having him—someone who looked like him, I had
to keep reminding myself!—acting so confident, so powerful, so dominant
It was heady stuff.

“Three thousand..?” Rhoda managed, still
struggling with her trio of captors. “How can you have that many dybbuks?
Even with years to work, you couldn’t corrupt that many alone, and Ardatlili’s
barely had time to start!”

“Indeed,” said Ashmodai. “And it was a long
and difficult game against the warlock who called me here and the priesthood of
the city. But in time I grew free enough and strong enough to make nephilim.
Every priestess and noblewoman I have claimed has become a naphil in my thrall,
and I have claimed them again and again.”

“Rhoda?” I called out, trying to ignore the way
his voice—so like Iason’s, and yet just that tiny, maddening, nigh-irresistible
bit different—kept running from my ears into my brain and then melting its way
down through my chest and stomach and out between my legs. “What the
fuck’s a naphil?”

“Bad,” said Rhoda. “Really bad!”

“Tell her,” Ashmodai said smugly. “I want her
to understand just how hopeless her struggle is.”

As Rhoda explained it, nephilim are like baby demons.
They’re made the same way Ashmodai bound Ardatlili to his will: their souls
drained, then replaced with some of Ashmodai’s own. Just like Ardatlili, they
had wills, but bound to his until they grew strong enough to resist. They had
some demon powers, including claiming souls, but were limited by their human
bodies—until death, when they descended to Hell as full demons.

“But that’s insane!” Rhoda said. “Making
nephilim is dangerous for a demon—every one you make weakens you and
creates a future rival!”

Ashmodai chuckled, a lower, more unnerving, somehow even
sound than his laugh. “It weakens me briefly, yes. But I am a
rarity among incubi—in life, I had no desire for men, at all, not even buried
deeply. This means that now, I have no power over half the world—so I learned
to make nephilim, and then keep draining them. Through them, I gain access to
the souls of men as well as women—and in the long term, they let me grow
stronger and faster than any other demon. Give me enough time in this world,
and I will rival Lilith herself!”

Shit, I thought. It’s the same damn pyramid scheme
as that vampire in Mercia. But a much bigger pyramid, with a
way bigger
monster at the top

“Now,” he said, laying his hands on my shoulders.
“Where were we?”

I looked up into his eyes. I couldn’t help myself. He was so
near, so present, so male. I was getting dizzy, and I could feel a flush
spreading through me. “You are helpless, Lemma,” he whispered.
“Your body yearns for my touch. Your mind aches for my control. Your will
bends to my power.”

And it was true, all true. I wanted him. I was going to
surrender to him, because I wanted him, and I wanted to submit, and this would
be both at once. Again I closed my eyes. Again I leaned up toward him, and this
time I knew what I was doing, a deliberate act of lust that gave him even more
power over me.

My heart quickened, and my need spiked. This was it. I
already couldn’t resist my need, and everything I did to act on it would make
it stronger still. He had me.

“You and your two friends, the warlock and the warrior
woman, will make fine nephilim,” Ashmodai said. “You will conquer the
world for me, starting with that man downstairs.”

Yes please, I thought. It didn’t matter what he said;
I would have thought yes please to anything. Rhoda was yelling at me to
stop, to think, but all I could think was about Iason’s lips, his arms, his
chest, his cock…

I mean Ashmodai’s. Not Iason’s. He just looked like
Iason, natural mistake.

Before I could do anything, before I could start the process
of surrendering my soul to be devoured by darkness, a heavily armed man flew in
through the door. A moment later, the doorframe smashed apart, and the hideous,
hulking, scaly, hairy figure of Sonneillon burst through, taking much of the wall
with him.

Taking advantage of the distraction, Rhoda pulled free of
her captors. “Couldn’t handle twenty city guards, huh!?” she shouted.
“Yeah, I heard what you said while I was being dragged in here, but I knew
he’d be fine! I let myself be captured on purpose to distract you!”

I was about 95% sure Rhoda was lying about that last part,
but who cares? It worked. I pulled away from Ashmodai and lobbed a
fireball at the dybbuk-guard closest to me.

Rhoda pointed at Ashmodai. “Sonneillon!” she
shouted. “Destroy the fiend!”

The minor wrath demon lumbered forward and punched Ashmodai
in the face. He just took it, not budging an inch, but he looked annoyed.

“Come on!” I shouted to Rhoda. “Let’s get out
of here!”

We fled out through the hole in the wall I’d made to get in,
while behind us Ashmodai calmly and methodically shredded Sonneillon to pieces.
I gave Rhoda a vault up to clamber over the wall, and then she pulled me up
with her.

We looked out onto a city plunged into Hell, or at least a very
enthusiastic fertility festival.

It had all been a trap, a way to keep us busy and away from
the priestesses—the only other people in town who might kind of stand a chance
of slowing him down—while Ardatlili and a couple dozen nephilim got to work.
They’d obviously kept our path here clear so we wouldn’t see, but once we were
inside they’d stopped bothering, and now it was obviously everywhere: a
massive, city-wide, ten-thousand-person orgy. People fucking each other,
dybbuks, themselves, a massive outpouring of lust magic—and as we stood there
atop the wall, it hit us.

“Oh,” said Rhoda. She grabbed my arm to steady
herself as she flushed. I felt it too—an electric tingling in the air, an
energy that went straight to my head and then crackled through my whole body.
It was completely different from what Ashmodai had done to us; that was the
allure of a single person, but this was just pure sex, an unfocused need that
had to be fulfilled by someone, somewhere.

I looked at Rhoda, and she looked at me. I could see in her
face that she was thinking the same thing I was: you’re someone.

And she was. How had I not seen it before? That cute face,
those pouty lips, that curvy little body… I had to see it, touch it, feel it,
I needed skin on mine—

“No,” she said thickly, speaking with difficulty.
“No!” She pushed me away, and I nearly fell off the wall. “We
are heroes! We won’t fall for this, this… corrupting miasma!”

Well shit, I thought, staring at her. It DOES work.

She jumped down from the wall and I jumped after her, still
not entirely sure if I was following because I agreed with her or because her
butt did fascinating things under that little white skirt of hers. She grabbed
my hand and I nearly creamed at the contact, but she really wasn’t
giving in to the spell—she just pulled me along as we raced toward the temple.

Then she abruptly stopped. “No,” she said.
“You feel that?”

“Feel..?” I mumbled. How could I feel anything but
her touch, the energy in the air, the need building inside me? And yet…
“Wait, is that..?”

“Power,” she said darkly. “Demonic power,
between us and the temple. Lemma, I hate this, but… we need to get out of
here for now.”

* * *

I don’t have much memory of escaping the city. I remember
stumbling after Rhoda, wishing she would just stop and fuck me already,
or at least let go so I could find someone who would. Other than that, it’s all
a blur of side streets and alleys, and then we were outside the city walls,
outside the influence of Ashmodai and his minions, and my brain started working

I found myself lying on my back on a rock, the hot sun
beating down on us. “Fuck,” I said.

“Yeah,” said Rhoda.

“You saved me,” I said simply. “Again. Just
like in Lagasch. I was almost gone, twice, and you pulled me out both

“Hero,” said Rhoda weakly. “’S what I

“I guess so,” I said.

We lay there a while. I don’t know how affected Rhoda was,
really. Was she really not touched by it, or just better than me at ignoring
her needs? I think it’s the latter, because she lay there as long as I did,
while the sun slowly sank toward the horizon.

“What do we do?” Rhoda asked. “He’s probably
got most of the city by now. He’ll be coming for us soon.”

“I can’t fight him,” I said simply. “I can’t
hurt him, and I can’t resist him. What can we do except run?”

Rhoda sat up and shook her head. “We have to find a
way. You heard him, he plans to enslave everyone. The whole world! He
has to be stopped!”

“But all we can do is lose!” I protested.
“And that just makes him that much stronger when the next person fights

Rhoda looked down toward the city. “But we have
to,” she said. “The people of the city. The world! Iola, Iason,
they’re all counting on us!”

I took a deep breath. “Rhoda… do you really think
they held out against that?”

She stood. In her white cape and the light of the setting
sun, I had to admit she struck a dramatic figure. “I do! I believe in
them, because they’re my friends. That’s what friends do.”

“There’s only two options,” I told Rhoda. “We
go back into the city to try to rescue them, and lose our souls, and then
Ashmodai spreads until he either conquers the world or someone powerful enough
to stop him shows up—a god maybe, or an Old One, I don’t know. Or we run, and
keep running, and if we’re lucky we find someone who can stop him.”

“…or we contain him,” said Rhoda slowly.
“I… for a little while, anyway, I think I can seal off the city.”

“The whole city!?” I was flabberghasted. Even I
would think twice about trying to pull of something that big!

“Just… just the demonic elements,” she said.
“It’s a simple circle of containment like you use on any demon. Demons,
nephilim, dybbuks, none of them could cross it. Then I’d just have to… you
know, hold it.”

I stared at her. “If you really think you can pull that
off, even for a little while… then we might stand a chance.” I took a
deep breath. “But it’s dangerous. Even if it works, everyone in that city
is dead—but the demons will be, too. Not just gone, dead.”

Her eyes widened. “Nothing can do that!”

“One thing can.”

* * *

Rhoda summoned a couple of minor imps, and with their help,
we managed to get a circle drawn around the entire city before dark.
Fortunately, that was all that was needed, just a simple circle that Rhoda
could infuse with her will.

And I infused it with… other things. At my direction, the
imps added a few little tweaks—a rune here, a sigil there—as I built a
containment spell of my own on top of Rhoda’s. It was a hack job, cobbled
together from bits of lesser spells, but it should hold as long as I was there
to keep it fed and stable.

The closer we got to finishing, though, the more worried I
got. At any second, I was sure, Ashmodai himself was going to come crashing out
of the city, two hundred feet tall and impossibly sexy, and we would cream on
the spot and fall to our knees as his slaves.

But it didn’t happen, and as we finished our preparations, I
realized I hadn’t been worried about it; I’d been hoping for it. Because
if we finished without him stopping us… it meant I had to actually do it.

While I stood there, staring down at the city, Rhoda
banished the imps. “I’m ready,” she said.

“Yeah,” I said. “Me too.”

Rhoda closed her eyes, and I felt a surge of power from her.
She spread her arms, and then said, with a hint of strain in her voice,
“Okay. It’s up. Whatever you’re going to do, do it.”

I nodded quietly and stepped forward. I raised my hand, held
it near the invisible barrier that Rhoda had created. It couldn’t affect me,
since I wasn’t a demon or a dybbuk or anything, and I could only barely feel it
as a sort of quiver of magical force, but it was there, and my own containment
spell was waiting underneath it, waiting for me to activate it.

Waiting for me to cast the Rite of Uncreation and destroy
the entire city and everything in it, Ashmodai and Ardatlili included.

I closed my eyes and concentrated. This was the most
dangerous spell I had ever cast, the most dangerous spell in the world. It had
to be perfect. Not the Rite itself—that was easy—but the container I was
going to try to keep it in. I had to let it run riot, out of control, as long
as it was inside the barrier, but without letting it break out of the

If I failed, it could devour everything. If I
succeeded, it would devour everything inside the barrier. Iola? Erased
from existence. Annella and her priestesses? Annihilated. Iason…

Well, it didn’t matter, did it? They were trapped in there
with the demon. They were lost already—their souls probably already devoured.
Even if not, it was only a matter of time, if I didn’t do this. Didn’t kill

I remembered when I first met Iason, outside that inn not
far from Brinksmoor Manor. He’d been a nuisance then—a grade-A chunk of
beefcake, sure, but so earnest and eager to please. He’d become even more
annoying as time went on, always snarking, teasing.


Always there. Always having my back. Always saving me, or
being saved by me. I remembered long hours on the road, swapping stories,
singing songs, trading jokes.

And now it was time for me to kill him. I had to! I didn’t
have any choice. If I didn’t do this…

I lowered my hand. An age of iron order… I thought.
The risks were terrible, almost as bad as trying to cast the Rite in the first

But I’d made my choice.

“Rhoda,” I said. “Hold this barrier as long
as you can. If I don’t make it back…” I hesitated. “Just hold it as
long as you can.”

I turned to look at her. She was grinning. “I knew
it,” she said, still with that hint of strain. “Hero.”

“Shut up,” I replied. But I couldn’t help smiling
as I did. Then I turned, stepped over our barrier, and ran as fast as I could
into the city.

The moment I entered, I felt that same energy hit me. It was
like running into a wall made of pure crackling need. The moment I hit
it, my head swam, my nipples hardened, my pussy dripped. My steps slowed, and I
felt my feet drifting somewhere else, somewhere new…

I shook my head. I had to stay focused on the mission at
hand. Rhoda and I had taken a complicated, curving path out of the city, trying
to avoid the orgies on practically every streetcorner, but those seemed to be
over now. I imagined a city of thousands of dybbuks, seeking out those who’d
hidden themselves, penning them together, claiming the last holdouts one by

I imagined them coming for me, my doomed effort at heroics
coming to nothing as they brought me before Ashmodai himself, and he claimed my
body, my mind, my spirit, my soul…

My feet were carrying me the wrong way again. Thanks to the
complex path we’d had to take, the spot where we’d left the city was actually
closer to the temple than to the house where I had to hope Iason was still
being held. My feet were wandering toward that house, but I needed to go
to the temple.

I turned that way, and began to run. I dashed down a
crooked, meandering street, then out into an abandoned market square. Well,
mostly abandoned.

“Hello,” I said to myself from across the square.

I stared at myself. The other me was lounging against a
pillar that supported one wall of a spice shop. She smiled slowly, in a
luxurious, sultry way that I would have killed to know how to do.

“Ardatlili,” I said.

“Lemma,” she replied, her voice full of dark honey
and acid vinegar. “You came back to me.”

“I thought succubi took the form of whoever you wanted
to bang,” I said.

“We do,” she said. “You are an astoundingly
vain and arrogant mortal, you know.”

“Ha. Ha,” I answered. While we spoke, I gathered
fire magic in my fist. Based on how powerful she’d been before, this was going
to take one good solid blast.

“For example, you’re vain enough to think this form is
for you,” she said.

Wait, what?

She laughed coldly. “Stupid girl. Who do you think
I would take this form for?”

I stared at her, mind whirling. “But—he’s not—he

“Tell me, what form did my lord Ashmodai take for you?
Ah, but no need to answer, I know. I can see it in your lust.”

I shook my head. “But—I know he doesn’t—”

“Do you?” she asked archly. “I am a succubus,
child. I know what a man wants. Iason wants you.” She looked down at
herself. “I understand your confusion, it’s hard to see why anyone would
want such a skinny little—”

I stabbed out with a white-hot bolt of crackling something.
I was too enraged to make up my mind, and it ended up sort of fire and
lightning. Either way, it was powerful enough to blast her straight back to

She batted it aside like it was nothing. “Oh, you poor,
dumb little child. I have been feasting, do you understand? Ashmodai
drained me of most of my power, and he has drained me thrice since, and even
I am more powerful by far than when last we met.”

She took a step forward. As she did, she grew taller, her
limbs lengthening as her body shifted, growing more voluptuous as she walked
toward me. My clothes—her copies of my clothes, that is—dissolved into a
clingy, sparkling green dress, and in a moment, Mona stood before me, the
impossibly sexy female avatar of the trickster god-king of Munn.

“I can be anyone you want,” she said, her voice
sultry and low. I backed away, but she kept walking forward, her hair
lengthening and lightening as her height decreased and the clinging dress
became thin tendrils, sprouting flowers that concealed nothing. “I can be everything
you want,” she continued in the voice of the Faerie Queen.

“No,” I said, but it was hard to put any force
into it. She was gorgeous, impossibly, unstoppably gorgeous. Iason was still
alive, still free, he had to be if she was headed to see him in my form—my
form, that he wanted, and how could that be?—but I would get no nearer to him
than this.

My knees felt weak. Her skin looked like golden cream, and
practically glowed in the light of the setting sun. Her eyes were big and blue
and clear, and I couldn’t look away from them. She was so close, all I had to
do was reach out and I could touch her, could feel that skin that I knew
would be as impossibly, perfectly soft as it looked. Her perfect mouth smirked,
and I knew that I would beg to feel it on me, that it would soon be sucking my
soul out through my pussy.

“DIE, FIEND!” a familiar voice screamed, and Iola
leaped from the shadows gathering at the edges of the square, the black sword
whistling through the air as she swung it against Ardatlili.

Ardatlili dodged out of the way, and turned to face Iola.
“You again?” she said. “Isn’t failing to defeat me three times

Iola grinned savagely. “Beating you three times, you
mean,” she said. “Or have you forgotten that I drove you from the
temple every time?”

Ardatlili’s eyes flashed. “And each time I have feasted
and returned, stronger still.”

What. The. Fuck. “Iola, it’s been like six
. How do you and Ardatlili have a rivalry already!? She’s supposed to
be my nemesis!”

“Three times,” Iola repeated, ignoring me.
“Three times I protected the temple from you, only for you to return
stronger. There will not be a fourth! This time I followed you as you fled!
This time I defeat you once and for all!”

“Okay, great,” I said. “You don’t see me
poaching your nemesis, but whatever, you do you.”

Iola screamed and lunged at Ardatlili again. The demon
caught the point of the blade on the palm of her hand, which sizzled lightly.
Then she pushed back, flinging Iola away.

Iola turned what could have been a stumble into a sort of
backwards hop, and then came at Ardatlili again, swinging the blade from the
side this time. Ardatlili dodged back, then circled around.

“It was very foolish to leave the temple, mortal,”
Ardatlili said. “Without its accursed sanctity to slow me, you are certain
to fall. And without you to protect it, it will soon fall, too. Your soul and
the souls of all those women will belong to me, as my thralls, forever.”

“NEVER!” Iola screamed and charged forward again.
Ardatlili laughed, dodged her blade, and swatted her on the side of the head as
she went past, sending her stumbling.

Of course I wasn’t doing nothing all this time. I was
gathering fire magic again, ready to unleash it as soon as I got an opening. As
Iola stumbled, Ardatlili turned to watch, momentarily exposing her back to me.
I focused down and lashed out with the strongest blast of fire I could muster,
channeled to a single point right in the middle of her back.

It did nothing.

“That’s not fair!” I protested as Ardatlili
turned to face me, grinning. “I am so sick of enemies that are
fucking immune to magic!”

She walked slowly toward me, hips swaying like a cobra
advancing on prey, and just as impossible not to watch. “Don’t
worry,” she said. “We won’t be enemies for much longer.”

“No,” said Iola. “This fight is over.”

“What are you—” Ardatlili started, and then
abruptly stopped. “No!”

“What?” I felt something, but I couldn’t
place what. Something magical had just happened, something major, but it wasn’t
the kind of magic I was used to. High magic, definitely, really high, but—and
then it hit me. “Holy shit.”

“The first part is accurate,” said Annella,
emerging from an alley behind me. Other priestesses emerged from the alleys and
streets leading into the square.

“Did you bring all of them?” Ardatlili

Iola smiled. “Of course. I wasn’t going to leave them
alone and unprotected in that temple, was I?”

“That temple was their only protection!”
Ardatlili snapped.

“Yes,” said Annella. “But a temple is not
walls and stones. It’s us.”

And that was what they’d done. While Iola and I kept
Ardatlili busy, they’d surrounded the square, and said their prayers, and now
it was a temple of Inara

“Inara,” Annella said, closing her eyes in prayer,
and the other priestesses joined with her. “Goddess of the Hunt.
Protector. Slayer of Dragons. Bless your daughter Iola, hunter of monsters and
slayer of demons. In Your holy name, may the strength of her enemy, defiler of
Your temple, be sapped here, in Your holy place!”

“No!” screamed Ardatlili, but I could feel it,
feel the threads of magic flowing from the gathered priestesses—no, flowing through
them, coming from who knows where—and wrapping around her, reaching into her, pulling
her magic out of her… And then Iola was there, her sword a black tear in the
world, slicing through thread after thread of magic and sucking them away until
it plunged into Ardatlili herself.

“No!” she screamed again, and then her body
collapsed into ectoplasm, her wailing spirit banished back to Hell once more.

Iola stood over her, panting. “Thank you, Lemma,”
she said. “I was waiting for something to distract her.”

I shook my head. “That was… that was amazing.”

“It was Iola’s plan,” said Annella. “We owe
it all to her—you have no idea! She’s been fighting Ardatlili all day!”

“I know,” I said. “I heard. I’m sorry,
there’s no time for stories.”

“Where’s Iason?” Iola asked. “When you didn’t
come back with him… I feared all of you were…”

“We didn’t rescue him,” I said. “I’m trying

“I’ll go with you,” said Iola.

“No. You saw what happened before, that sword can’t
hurt him. I don’t think even the priestesses could weaken him enough to do


“No,” I repeated. “Listen. You’ve protected Annella
and the others so far. Finish the job! Get them out of the city. Rhoda’s
maintaining a barrier that demons can’t cross, maybe they can help her hold
them in.”

Iola only hesitated a moment. “All right,” she
said finally. “And you?”

I’d been thinking about that. My hope had been that Iola and
the priestesses were still holding out and could help me. But if Ardatlili had
grown that much stronger in just a few hours, how much stronger would Ashmodai
be? They couldn’t help me. I had to go alone. “I’m going to rescue
Iason,” I said.

“But how?” Annella protested. “You said it
yourself. If he’s too strong for us or the sword—”

“You’re going to use that, aren’t you?”
Iola asked. “The thing you were too afraid to use against Brea.”

“Too afraid or too smart,” I said.

“And you’re not smart now?” Iola asked.

I had to laugh. “No, I’m starting to realize I’m an

“I could have told you that,” Iola said, and
smiled. “Bring that other idiot back with you.”

I nodded. “I will. Now go. Get to safety!” Then I
turned and ran toward the house. I was certain now that he would be there.
Ashmodai had to know I was coming for him—and he wanted me to.

The house’s gate was still smashed, of course. It looked
deserted as I approached, but I knew it wouldn’t be. I walked straight in
through the front door, to find Iason waiting for me, lounging on a high throne
that had probably been carried here from the palace.

“Ashmodai,” I said.

“Lemma,” he said, and I came.

He smiled and stood. “Welcome,” he said, taking a
single step toward me, and I came again, shaking and moaning.

I collapsed to the floor. I couldn’t help it; at just two
words from him, my strength was gone—and it felt incredible.

He walked slowly toward me, confident and graceful as a
jungle cat. His clothes just sort of dissolved—and with a gesture of his hand,
so did mine. “Not how you expected this to go?” he asked.

Every syllable was another orgasm, each stronger than the
one before. I lay curled up on my side, shuddering and gasping for air as
pleasure blasted through me. “No…” I admitted weakly, when I could
get enough air into my lungs.

“No,” he said, and I came again. “Did you
expect to fight me, to pull some cunning spell out at the last second? Did you
think love could win?”

I thrashed and sobbed as wave after wave of indescribable
pleasure poured through me. If this is what hearing him is like, what would
it be like to
touch him? I thought, and regretted it immediately,
because now I couldn’t get the idea out of my head.

He stopped, towering over me. I looked up and all I could
see was Iason’s big brown cock, hard and straight, thick and long and proud,
sticking out right over my head. I wanted to touch it. Needed to touch
it. But desperately I fought that need, trying to hold my hands back.

“You chose to come back,” Ashmodai said. “As
I knew you would. We know what the enemies of order predicted. A choice between
order and chaos… but you know what you are.”

I screamed as I came again and again. It was agony, perfect,
incredible, blissful agony that I wanted to never stop. Then it did, and that
was worse.

“Sorceress of the high magic. Civilized Lemurian. Librarian.
What could you choose but order?”

Again and again and again and again. I couldn’t think,
couldn’t breathe, could barely move. But that cock was hanging above me, and I
knew that it could do even more. Slowly I reached for it.
“Yes,” I managed croak, my mouth dry. “I choose…”

I touched his cock, and another orgasm, better than any of
the others, swept through me, and this one kept going as long as I kept
touching. I closed my eyes, and then with every ounce of willpower I had left,
I forced them open again. I looked up into Ashmodai’s face, which was Iason’s
face. “Order…” I managed, and he smiled in triumph.

“…chaos…” I continued, and his smile turned
into a puzzled frown. “Between them… I choose… him.”

Then I reach into his cock, into the threads of magic that
made up his entire being, that made up the entire world… and I snapped

It should have made a noise. I expected it to—twang
or zing or something like that. But it didn’t. It just snapped, two
broken ends waving off. That was it. That was the entire Rite. Everything else
was just about dealing with the consequences of that single, simple act.

Two broken ends of a snapped thread of magic, their
razor-sharp tips glistening as they sliced through two other threads.

Which snapped, four broken ends waving off, their
razor-sharp tips glistening as they sliced through four other threads.

Which snapped, eight broken ends waving off, their razor-sharp
tips glistening as they sliced through eight other threads. 

Which snapped…

“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!?” Ashmodai roared, staggering
back away from me. I didn’t cum—his magic was all focused inwards now, trying
to fight what was inside him.

I dragged myself painfully to my feet. “What I had
to,” I said. Then I staggered past him, deeper into the house.

He howled in agony and reached for me, but he was collapsing
into himself already. He couldn’t do anything to me, or anyone, anymore.

“That man downstairs,” he’d called Iason. This
house had to have some kind of underground room—a root cellar or wine cellar.
Either way, it was probably reached through the pantry… which could be any
room except the one we’d found the old scribe in before.

I picked one at random, and got lucky. There was an open
trapdoor in the middle of the floor, and stairs leading down to a dark cellar.
Down there, I saw Iason, naked, three equally naked young women stroking him
and cooing while he grimaced and struggled. He was still fighting them! Still

I took out the first naphil with a bolt of fire to the head.
Partial succubus powers or not, her body was still human. The other two turned
and began stalking toward me with naked hunger, hips and breasts swaying.

They were pretty hot, actually, but I had just had umpteen
thousand orgasms and I was fucking tired. I blasted them both and then
stumbled my way over to Iason.

“Lemma!” he cried happily when he saw me. “Is
it—no, this is a trick! It’s not you!”

“Shut up, stupid,” I said. “Of course it’s

“Prove it. Say something only Lemma would say.”

“I don’t have time for this! We have to get out of here—I’ve
beaten Ashmodai, but it’s going to destroy the entire city and take us with it
if we don’t hurry.”

He paused, considering. “Yeah, that is something only
you would say. Okay.”

I laughed weakly. “Asshole.” Then I slashed
through his ropes with a burst of fire and helped him to his feet. He collapsed
against me, clearly as exhausted as I was, but somehow we both managed to stay
upright in each other’s arms.

I looked up at him. He looked down at me. I’m not sure which
of us moved, maybe both, but a moment later our lips were together.

It wasn’t a passionate, heroic kiss for the ages. It was the
soft kiss of two people who were utterly exhausted but very glad to see each
other. It was just a moment, and then we broke apart.

He started to say something, and I shook my head.
“Gotta go,” I said tiredly. “No time.”

He tried again, and I shook my head. “Hurry!” I
repeated, and then turned to stagger back up the stairs. A moment later, he
followed behind me.

We stumbled back up the stairs and out into Ashmodai’s
makeshift throne room, where he was still standing there, one hand
outstretched, and expression of horror on his face, while between his legs,
there was… nothing. Not a hole, not emptiness, not darkness, just… nothing.

“What did you do to him?” Iason asked.

“Bad things,” I said. “Listen, there’s a lot
of magic in a demon that powerful, it’ll take a while to consume all of him—but
once it does, it’ll sweep through the rest of the city in seconds. We have to
be out of here by then!”

“Then what are we waiting for?” he asked.

And leaning on each other for support, we staggered as
quickly as we could out of the house, down the streets, out of the city. No one
tried to stop us—with Ashmodai dissolving from the inside out, the dybbuks were
reduced to empty shells, bodies and minds with their driving will retracted to
focus on his own problems. The nephilim were in confusion, their master’s
influence breaking or already broken, but not yet powerful enough to fully
assert their own wills. And everyone else… well, if there was anyone else in
the city, they were already gone, I hoped.

We made it just in time. We stepped outside the barrier, and
then I felt it—like the world falling away beneath me, a sickening plunge as
magic poured into a hole that grew faster the more magic it swallowed. Blinking
exhaustion out of my eyes, I reached for the barrier, and activated my
containment spell.

Then the Rite struck it. It was like a physical blow in
reverse—not knocking me back, but trying to pull me in. I was being dragged
forward, slowly but inexorably, no matter how much of what little power I had
left I poured into the barrier. Out of the corners of my eyes I could see Rhoda
struggling to maintain her part of it as well, the priestess lending their
power to aid us both… but it didn’t matter. I was being pulled toward the
barrier, and once I touched it, crossed it, the Rite would tear me to shreds,
my spell would collapse, and the Rite would sweep out across the world.

I hadn’t saved the world, I’d destroyed it. Dammit, mom was
right about me again.

And then I felt Iason’s arms circle my waist. He dug his
heels in, and leaned back, and I stopped. He was doing it, his stupid
meathead beefcake strength was actually beating the Rite of Uncreation!

Which just left it up to me to hold the barrier. My strength
was fading fast, I was exhausted… but I had to do it, so I did.

At last, every bit of magic inside the barrier consumed, the
Rite ended. A moment later, I did too; my spell collapsed, the barrier
collapsed, and the air rushed in like a giant bubble popping. Where the city
had been, there was just a huge circular hole in the ground.

A circular hole left by a completely successful casting of
the Rite of Uncreation that did exactly what I wanted it to do. “I rule!”
I said, or tried to. It came out more like “I ryarrffhhghhlll,” and
then I was out.

* * *

By the time I woke up, it was morning. I was lying on a
rather uncomfortable patch of ground; Iason sat nearby, watching me.
“Morning,” he said.

“So it is,” I replied.



“So, um, I couldn’t help but notice…” he
started, and then trailed off.

I sighed. Even after a night’s sleep, or coma, or whatever
I’d been in, I was too tired to fight this. “Yeah, yeah, I knew this was
coming. Just go ahead and get it out.”

“Ashmodai. When we came out. He kinda looked like…
well, like me.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“But… I mean, when they’re targeting someone, don’t

“Yeah,” I said again.

“So does that mean you..?”

“Don’t read too much into it,” I said.
“You’re pretty, is all. It’s not like you don’t know that.”

“Oh,” he said, blushing a little. Actually
blushing! “Because, um…”

“What?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he said.

We were silent a while.

“It’s just…” he said after a moment. “I
mean, I didn’t think you were…”

“No, no, it’s not like that,” I said. “I
think of you as a friend. Just like you think of me.”

“Ah,” he said. “Well, I mean… I do of course!
But, um…”

I stared at him. I could feel the tips of my ears burning.
“‘But, um?’” I asked.

“Well,” he said. “I mean… so the thing is,
um… at first I just thought you were this kid, right? Kind of bratty, but
smart and fun, and we made a good team. But then… well…” He rubbed the
back of his head. “You came to rescue me from the Faerie Queen. And, uh,
you’d changed your hair.”

“Oh,” I said. That was why he hadn’t tried
anything when he had his inhibitions removed by Mona? Because he wasn’t into me
yet? But then I thought of Annella, his first crush, short and skinny
and redheaded… “Oh, fuck, you have a type. So all those times you
had sex with other girls…”

“I told you,” he said. “Those were necessary.
To help people! I mean, they weren’t bad, but they weren’t my type. They
weren’t… well, small and smart and redheaded and funny and pretty and

I knew I had to be blushing hard now. “You really think
I’m all those things?”

“You always think you’re all those things,”
he answered.

“Well, yeah,” I said, “but I didn’t know you agreed.
Why didn’t you ever say anything?”

“Well, I figured, with everything happening, well…
see the thing is, I…”

He was quiet for a while, but I wasn’t about to let the
conversation die here. “Spit it out, Iason.”

He sighed. “Over and over again, I saw you get caught.
Used. Controlled. People made you want them, made you love them, made
you… serve… them. And… and… dammit, Lemma, it was hot! If I had
the power, I’d want to do that to you, too! And after everything you’ve been
through, all the times you’d have to suffer that, how could I do it to you,
too? I’m supposed to be your protector!”

I stared at him in silence for a long moment. It unfolded
slowly, stretching out between us, as I worked my way through everything he’d
just said.

Then I began to laugh.

* * *

We talked for a long while. It was past noon when the two of
us finally joined the others in a makeshift camp on the edge of the pit where
the city had once stood.

There were a lot of them. Rhoda, Iola, and the priestesses
I’d expected, but… “Where’d all these kids come from?” There were
dozens of children, hundreds. Some of them were playing, but most were just
huddled, looking scared and sad, while priestesses walked up and down between
them, offering comfort and soft words.

“We found them,” said Iola. “On the way out
of the city, I spotted a dybbuk dragging a child. On a hunch, I followed them.
Turned out they’d herded all the city’s children into this warehouse.”

“We think they were saving them for later,”
Annella said darkly. “Waiting for them to grow old enough to…

“Ugh,” said Iola, and shuddered.

“Wow,” I said. “Well. What’ll happen to

“We’ve been discussing that,” said Annella.
“Our sister temple, the Temple of Inara in Lurz will gladly take us in,
but this is too many children for them. Still, it is a large and prosperous
city… I’m sure we can find homes for all of them.”

“That’s good,” I said, and meant it. “Good
luck to all of you.”

“Lemma?” asked Rhoda. “That sounds a lot like

“That’s because it is,” I said. “The last
book was in the town. It’s gone forever now, devoured by the Rite. That means
the entire Lost Library’s accounted for. It’s time for me to go home.”

“And I’m going with her,” said Iason.

Iola stood. “Then you’ll need this,” she said, and
held out the hilt of the sword to Iason.

“No,” he said.

“It’s yours,” she insisted. “I failed the
women of Brinksmoor twice. I’m not worthy of father’s sword.”

“Look around,” said Iason. “You saved all these
women, all these children. You did that.”

“And you defeated a demon I couldn’t scratch,” I
added. “Me. And I just killed a demon lord!”

Iola’s eyes filled with tears, and she blinked them back

“You’re worthy, little sister,” he said.
“More worthy than I ever was. And besides… it’s not what you do before
you wield the sword that makes you worthy, it’s what you do once you have

“Thank you,” she said simply. Then she turned to
me. “Take care of him, Lemma.”

“I have so far,” I said.

“If by ‘take care of’ you mean ‘place in constant
danger,’” Iason countered.

“Hey, I always get us back out again, don’t I?”

“That you do,” he admitted. “You could stand
to be a bit more observant, though.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.

“Well, I can understand how you were a little
distracted by seeing all this,” he gestured down at himself, “but
really, you didn’t notice this in that basement? Or that I was carrying it our
whole way out?” He held up something wrapped in a cloth.

I snatched it from him and pulled it open while he
continued. “Seriously, some Librarian. One of the most powerful books in
the world, and you don’t even notice it a foot away?”

It lay in my hands, heavy with dark power: the Sepher
Shel Agrat
. The last book. “How..?” I asked.

He shrugged. “While they had me downstairs, that old
scribe guy came down and left it. I guess he didn’t need it anymore, or
couldn’t use it. When you got me out, I tried to tell you, but you were too out
of it, and I knew I couldn’t touch it, so I grabbed the cloak off one of those
demon-girls you killed and wrapped it up.”

“Wow,” I said. “That’s really it. I’m done. I
got all of them!”

Iason smiled. “Pretty impressive, considering you
didn’t notice I had it in my hand the whole time we were talking. You’re not
very good at this, huh?”

Grr. “Oh, I’ll show you what I’m good at. Come
here, let me just take this for a second…” I held out the book toward

He took a step back, waving his hands and shaking his head.
“Nuh-uh. I touched one of those before, you’re not getting me to do it

“Oh?” I asked. “But I’m not much of a
Librarian, right? So it must be safe for people who aren’t Librarians to touch!
Give it a try!” I thrust it toward him and he jumped back again.

“Stop it, Lemma!” he said, as Rhoda and Iola
started to laugh.

“When you admit I’m
the best Librarian ever!” I shouted, and chased him down the hillside.