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Coming out of the lamp was such a rush. One minute Zahara was nothing but vapor, swirling in the icy storms of the last level of hell. The next, she streamed out into the mundane air of the human sphere. Her flesh solidified into a floating upper torso, while her lower body remained only a tail of black flames licking up around the brass vessel used for the summoning.
And what flesh it was.
Zahara pinched back her shoulder blades and posed with her hands on her hips to better accentuate her breasts. They were huge, because she liked her first impression to be a lasting one.
The resounding crack of thunder that marked the transition into the world of man faded away. With a fanged smile, she faced the sorcerer who had dared to call her, the most notorious jinnayah this side of Baghdad.
“Behold. It is I, Zahara, dread spirit of the endless desert.” She’d made that up on the spot, and it sounded great. “I have journeyed, o’ child of mud and dirt, from the land of smokeless fire to your dreary realm. What do you call yourself, and what is it you demand of me?”
She had decided to put as much formality into her speech as possible, to further impress upon him how fortunate he was to have summoned such a powerful jinn to do his evil bidding. Not too traditional, of course, since she was speaking in flawless English, not classical Arabic.
The twenty-something standing outside the pentagram stared back at her, his mouth hanging open wide enough for a vulture to fly inside.
His first time, obviously. Perfect. This was the one time she wanted an inexperienced man.
“Daniel.” He managed to get that much out, then circled around her, rubbing his eyes as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Either that or she had gone a little too heavy on the clouds of brimstone. “Daniel Goldstein. And you’re… floating.”
Zahara had chosen to appear in her favorite human manifestation, a voluptuous female with black hair that spilled around her bare shoulders. As for clothing, this was the only aspect of Zahara’s life where she preferred minimalism. Two scanty triangles of crystal-encrusted silk clung desperately to her breasts, and a veil of silver mesh provided some limited coverage to her nether regions. Which were, currently, still in the nether region. From the waist down, she was only a twisting funnel of smoke and fire. It was a hard trick to keep up for more than a few minutes, but the stunned look on humans’ faces when she did always made it worthwhile.
“I mean,” the sorcerer stammered, “you don’t have legs, or feet. You really did just float up out of that lamp.”
He wasn’t the brightest evil magician Zahara had ever encountered, but not the worst looking, by a long shot. A little taller than average, with amazed hazel eyes framed by a mop of curly hair. For the occasion of his first summoning, he had chosen to wear a New York Mets T-shirt and plaid pajama bottoms. Smelled like he had been doing a little drinking before her arrival, too.
Sorcerers these days. Always trying to seem nonchalant. He should be striving to awe her with his power and mastery of dark magic—for self-preservation, if for no other reason. Back in her mother’s heyday, one wrinkle in a human’s formal set of Magi robes would have led to an immediate and gruesome death. This Daniel character was fortunate Zahara wanted to be conjured up, and was willing to overlook a few procedural details.
The summoning space Daniel had chosen didn’t exactly exude competence, either. They were inside a small apartment, with a window looking out onto a nighttime cityscape of glittering lights against a dark sky, with occasional flashes of color from passing police cars. Inside, a clumsy pentagram had been poured out in sand over a woolen Berber rug. Some tastefully dull black-and-white photo art hung on the walls, and the room’s Bauhaus replica furniture had been neatly pushed aside to allow extra room for the ceremony. No weeping naked virgins in chains, no bowls of blood, not even a severed goat head. For candles, he had selected congealed wax set into squat glass containers better suited for jams and jellies. Zahara gave the air a sniff. What was that smell? Pumpkin spice?
Well, the last thing she had wanted was a skilled practitioner of the dark arts who might be able to outfox her in negotiations. This modern setup all but screamed newbie magician, which meant he’d be easier to trick. Her first goal was to loosen him up a little.
She solidified the lower half of her body and stepped out onto the rug. Her long, shapely legs ended in razor-sharp stiletto heels—a concession to the modern world; Zahara loved human shoes. A belt around her waist dipped below her jeweled belly button to hold her metallic slit skirt in place. She rotated around to show him the rear view. A narrow strip of filigreed silver plunged over her bottom and fell to the floor.
“There you go.” Zahara gave her best flesh-jiggling shimmy before twirling around to slink toward him. She used the sharpened tip of her fingernail to lift up his shirt and get a better look at his chest. “So, what do you want to do first? A little French, perhaps?”
“French?” He stared back at her, puzzled.
Zahara undid the drawstring on his pants and parted her lips to show him her forked tongue.
“Oh, God, no.” Daniel stumbled backward, yanking his pajamas back up.
Wait. Was he refusing her advances?
She made a sweeping gesture up and down her body. “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you think I’m beautiful?”
With a snap of her fingers, a roaring wall of flame shot up behind him, cutting off his escape. She narrowed her eyes in fury. Rejection wasn’t something she handled well.
“It’s not you, it’s me.” Daniel tried frantically to bat down some of the flames with a couch throw before turning back to face her, his hands raised in surrender. “You’re stunning, gorgeous, a vision of pulchritude. But I’m gay.”
“You’re gay.” Zahara folded her arms over her chest. Well, there went the plan to cloud his mind with lust. “Do you have any idea how long I worked on these breasts?”
“So, so gay.” He raised a shaking hand toward the back of the room. “Do you want to see a picture of my ex-boyfriend?”
Zahara pursed her lips, then nodded. No need to panic. All she had to do was find another method to break through his defenses. The flames died down, and he rushed over to the corner to retrieve a framed photograph. The background was all blue waves and white buildings, and the man standing next to him in the picture combined a dour expression with a polo shirt to ill effect.
“This was taken in July. Anton and I spent a weekend in Provincetown. I looked for some art, and he complained about the stock market. It was wonderful. But since then we’ve grown apart. It was a mutual decision. We both needed to take a break for a while.” He stopped and took a breath, as if even he realized he was babbling.
“Your lover spurned you.” Zahara deepened her voice to give more dramatic emphasis to her words. She leaned over him. Even without the heels, she had given herself a form two meters tall. Who needed a short jinn? “He rejected your affections, disregarded your burning passion for him.”
“Okay, yes, maybe the breakup was his idea. But I’m over it at this point. I’m surprised I still have this old picture hanging around.”
Zahara flicked her fingers at the coffee table, which held three additional framed photographs of the two men. “Don’t worry. When I’m through with him, he’ll be writhing on the ground, blood oozing from every orifice as he begs for the merciful death you’ll refuse to grant him.”
Daniel gasped. “No, I don’t want to hurt Anton. I didn’t call you to do anything like that.”
“Of course not.” Time to shift tactics. Zahara flicked her fingers again and the picture frame in his hand shattered into a spray of glass shards that fell to the floor. For added effect, she made the photograph inside burst into flames. “That worthless worm is nothing compared to the hordes of beautiful young men who will fight for your attentions once you have the power that’s rightfully yours.” She brushed by him to admire the skyline soaring up outside the window. As magicians’ lairs went, it had a decent view. “Shall I assassinate the leader of this city and place you in his palace?”
“No, thank you, I don’t want to kill off the mayor of New York. Or even my city council member, who’s totally annoying. I’m not interested in politics.”
She decided to drop the ancient jinn speech and explain things to this dim-witted sorcerer in words he could understand. With a stomp of her foot, she started to tick off topics on her fingers. “No kinky sex, no bloody revenge, and no palace coup? If you’ve summoned me to lead you to hidden treasure, you’ve got the wrong girl. I love the Big Apple, but with my knowledge of New York City’s ancient past, I’d be lucky to scare up some wampum and pottery shards.”
“I don’t want money,” he said. “I called up a jinn because my bubbe told me I had to save the world before two fallen angels destroy it.”
That sounded wrong on so many levels, Zahara didn’t know where to start. Humans often confused some jinn, like the peri of Persia, with angels, assuming any human-appearing creature with a pair of giant bird wings was on their side. But Zahara knew what total bastards those peris were, and she wanted nothing to do with a fight against not one, but two of them. Besides, what sort of sorcerer called up a jinn like herself to save people?
“So Daniel Goldstein’s bubbe told him to call me.” Zahara emphasized the correct pronunciation of the Yiddish name for grandmother, since she could. She spoke hundreds of human languages, not that any of them were much use in understanding Daniel’s drunken ramblings. “And you want me to help people, not haunt them. I think you’re getting your infernal servants confused. Try a golem. They’re not too bright and a much better cultural match.”
“My grandmother was from Morocco and she believed in the jinn.” Daniel’s voice had an edge in it now, as if her comment had stung him into sobriety. He walked back over to the pentagram and picked up the lamp Zahara had emerged from. “She sent me a letter with instructions and then this arrived. I didn’t think any of it could be real at first. But strange things kept happening…” His voice trailed off, and he reached out to touch her arm. “I can’t believe this worked.”
Zahara took a step back. She had been waiting for this opportunity for years, hoping to answer the call of a greedy sorcerer whose base desires would lead to his downfall. Now she had to deal with a do-gooder whose extended family had magical chops. For a moment, she considered vanishing in an offended puff of smoke and waiting for her spells to reveal another, more standard summons. But it wasn’t like the world was crawling with magicians these days, and she wanted—no, needed—to make this arrangement work.
For once in her life, Zahara wanted her mother to take her seriously. Tricking a human sorcerer into giving up his soul would be the perfect way to do that.
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