Demon Lord of Elysium
In this third book of the Demon Rift series we get a look at how things work on the demon side of the veils between the worlds—and how adventuring looks to the servants who go along to cook the meals and take care of the wagons. And how a demon in the form of a dinosaur ended up the majordomo of Carl’s Not So Bad Caverns.
When Pucorl, the puck who’d possessed a 21st century BMW van, turned the demon Beslizoswian into roadkill on a battlefield outside Paris in the year 1372, he didn’t know what he was getting into. How could he? No puck had ever slain a Demon Lord before. But Themis the goddess of proper behavior has determined that Pucorl is now the proper lord of Beslizoswian’s Caverns of Torment. And what’s a puck-enchanted van with a crush on his mechanic supposed to do with Caverns of Torment?
In this third book of the Demon Rift series we get a look at how things work on the demon side of the veils between the worlds—and how adventuring looks to the servants who go along to cook the meals and take care of the wagons. And how a demon in the form of a dinosaur ended up the majordomo of Carl’s Not So Bad Caverns.
We also learn about what’s going on in France and England while Pucorl and the twenty-firsters are in Constantinople. We meet a few gods, make a few deals, and even see a truly magical kiss and some of its consequences. All in all it’s a fun romp through the magic of Pucorl’s lands in Elysium.
And if you don’t already have them you’ll want the first two books in the series: The Demons of Paris and The Demons of Constantinople.
Chapter 1: Pucorl & Annabelle
Location: Battlefield, outside Paris
Time: 3:47PM, June 15, 1372
Pucorl hit the demon lord—what was left of the demon lord—without slowing at all.
Demons are not physical in the sense that mortals are. They consume one another, and mix and change under a completely distinct set of natural laws. All relations between their universe and the human universe are translation effects. Pucorl didn’t eat the demon lord. He subsumed it, restructured it, and made it part of himself. That he could do so was a function of its weakened state, Pucorl’s possession of the van, and the cold iron disrupting its structure as Pucorl drove through it.
The demon lord had already been partly consumed by Themis, and Pucorl’s power was greatly magnified by the van. But more than anything, it was the disruption of the cold iron of Pucorl’s armor and cowcatcher that effectively ground Beslizoswian into mush.
The effect, the feeling, was something that no demon could ever explain to a mortal, but in demonic terms Pucorl got a whole lot bigger. Pucorl’s territory got bigger too, for in his own small way Chevalier Pucorl was as much his land, as Themis was hers. Still, all Pucorl got was that part of Beslizoswian that was in the mortal realm; the massive caverns were still under Themis.
Annabelle Cooper-Smith sat in Pucorl’s driver’s seat as Pucorl hit the looming black demon and felt the change. Pucorl felt more solid and she felt more solid too. She didn’t know that more of the magic flowed into her than into Roger, but it had. Partly that was because she was in the driver’s seat and the driver’s seat was by its nature the “heart” of a van, and partly it was because Pucorl liked her better than he liked Roger. The magic that Pucorl unconsciously fed to her as he consumed the demon lord strengthened the bond between them.
Then, of course, they had to get Themis back where she belonged and send the zombies back to their rest as much as they could, then King Charles threw them all in the dungeon, and with all that going on Annabelle forgot about the whole solidity thing, and didn’t even imagine that she had started to become magical.
Location: Chateau du Guesclin, Paris
Time: 2:15 PM, June 21 1372
Tiphaine de Raguenel looked at the clock in the corner of the great room. That clock didn’t belong to her. It belonged to Chevalier Pucorl de Elysium. It was still here because it was not the property of the twenty-firsters. Or maybe not.
She went upstairs to another room. In that room was a crystal set lovingly made by Jennifer Fairbanks and inhabited by a demon named Iris.
“Hello, Iris,” Tiphaine said, not sure if the crystal radio set would still work. All of the twenty-firsters’ devices had stopped working when they were ordered to turn themselves off.
“I have a call from Themis,” Iris said.
“Oh!” Tiphaine wasn’t expecting to get a call from a titan. “I would be honored to speak to Queen Themis.”
“Thank you, Lady de Raguenel,” said a voice that was nothing like the voice of Philip the Bold, save that it carried the majesty that Philip held when he had proclaimed himself the true king outside the walls of Paris. That stolen glory was there now in Themis’ voice, back where it belonged. “You, all of you, need to let my demons go.”
It was gently given but it was a demand. A royal demand, even a godly demand.
“I’m not sure I can. At least in the case of Iris. The others of your demons which have enchanted items owned by our house I can release, but the crystal radio that Iris is bound to is owned by Jennifer Fairbanks, not me. I believe that she would agree, but at the moment Jennifer is, ah, unavailable.”
At that moment Jennifer Fairbanks and all the twenty-firsters were locked up in the dungeon of the Bastille and most of their enchanted items were locked up in the king’s vault.
“And the other items in Paris, in France, those items that were enchanted in an attempt to remove them from my will while I was held? I imagine you can’t release those either?”
“No, not without the consent of the owner of the item.”
“You will then release those demons inhabiting items that you own.”
Almost Tiphaine acquiesced at once. But she had enough will and enough presence of mind to realize that not all of the items would want to be released. “Often demons in enchanted items chose to be there. I would not take from them their free choice in the matter.”
“You took it willingly enough before,” Themis said. Then with only a short pause corrected herself. “No . . . you are correct. That was war and done at least in part to protect them from being forced into dead bodies by me. Very well. You may leave the choice of whether to go or stay with them.”
Over the next several days the magical items in the estate of Bertrand du Guesclin were given the choice, stay or go. Some chose to stay, others to go. Many of the items in Tiphaine’s and Bertrand’s household were enchanted before the war and had had the choice of going or remaining all along. And many of the draftees from the war, given the choice, decided to stay, for the work that was being done in Chateau du Guesclin was interesting and different.
The items which lost their demons were reenchanted with willing demons. It took a while. And, at the same time that was happening, the rest of Paris was having to deal with the same issue. Along with the general rebuilding after a bloody war across France and a siege of Paris.
Not every Parisian was willing to give up their demonically enchanted armor or their demonically enchanted water heater. And many who were willing enough wanted to be paid. The University of Paris wanted to be paid for the loss of its enchanted water vats, which purified sulfur and saltpeter, and mixed black powder, as well as those that helped in the making of aspirin and other drugs. All of which were making the university quite a lot of money.
Meanwhile Tiphaine got a guard to deliver a note to Jennifer Fairbanks, asking her permission to release Iris back to Themis.
The note was returned with Jennifer’s permission granted. And instructions that the crystal set was to be given into the care of her Paris factor so that Jennifer could maintain contact with her lands.
Location: Chateau du Guesclin, Paris
Time: Mid Morning, July 4, 1372
The crystal radio was placed in the pentagram with Jennifer Fairbank’s note granting Iris her freedom, and instructing that any demon invited to the crystal radio be free to come and go.
Lady Tiphaine de Raguenel started incanting. A woman in Amazon armor, but with the earphones of a radio operator from the nineteen-twenties appeared in the pentagram and disappeared.
Then, in her place, a magpie appeared, squawked “Hello,” laughed and dove into the crystal set. While the innards of the crystal set were as technically accurate as Jennifer could make them, the crystal set also had a microphone and speakers. And, just for the heck of it, eyes painted on the case, making it a fairly pleasant place for a demon to reside.
Maggie the Magpie was a volunteer from Themis’ lands. Maggie liked to talk and felt that a nice safe radio would be a good place to sit and chat for a few years or eons.
Maggy was introduced to Jennifer’s factor who was also the factor for Bertrand du Guesclin and Tiphaine de Raguenel.
Location: Themis’ Palace, Netherworld
Time: Mid Morning, July 4, 1372
Iris noted that while Themis had been missing, the palace had drifted some four feet to the left and three feet down. Which was a remarkably small amount, since the land it was on had been missing for months. But it still meant that the castle would have to shift back or Themis would have to rearrange herself.
Themis took it upon herself to make the adjustment. And therefore Iris reappeared four feet to the right and three feet up, relative to the floor from where she had been when she was called. Sniffing in distaste, she stepped down to the floor as though walking down a staircase that wasn’t there.
Iris was a relatively powerful demon, one of several in Themis’ service. She maintained a closeness to Themis that made her almost an aspect of the titan. She immediately set about setting Themis’ palace to rights. And Themis discussed with her what she had learned in her captivity and by her manumission.
“In my captivity, I learned that telephones, radios, and other electronic devices are of value, and quite a bit about how they work,” Iris said. “From my manumission, I learned that at least Jennifer Fairbanks is wise enough to fear you.”
“Are you sure it was fear? It wasn’t fear when Roger McLean freed me. It was, in fact, an act of courage and generosity.”
Iris didn’t argue, but she wasn’t entirely convinced either.
Themis smiled at her acerbic majordomo and said, “I have a new job for you, Iris. I want you to set up and manage a phone service in my lands. I need cell towers and switchboards, phones and bluetooth connections, the works.”
Iris bowed and set to work.
Themis had her own problems, in the days since she’d been restored to herself, she had learned that her lands had been damaged by Philip the Traitor more than she had imagined while trapped in the sword. By rights, she should confirm Pucorl’s lands, those he had gained through his defeat of the demon lord, but there were practical reasons not to do that just yet. It hid the extent of her damage from the other gods and titans of this part of the netherworld.
Even more practically, she had no ready means of getting there. Her sword was a link to her, of course, but it was stuck in the floor of Charles of France’s throne room. It wouldn’t be beyond her ability to simply step into the world wherever she chose, but entering the lands of another without permission was a much greater offense than traveling to another’s land in the mortal realm. More akin to stepping into their bathing room while they were bathing or giving them a pat. Since the lord is the land, visiting took on a higher level of intimacy than it did for mortals.
Location: Pucorl’s Lands, Dryads’ Grove
Time: August 3, 1372
Under a sapling of indeterminate sort, Jeff Martin bled out his life, feeding it all unknowing into the soil of the netherworld. His seed and even a bit of his substance were already there. It was that seed from which the sapling had sprouted. Jeff had been shot by one of King Charles of France’s royal guards while retrieving some of the computers and other gear of the twenty-firsters the King had seized, in a fit of greed.
Jeff looked up into the eyes of his fantasy lover and his impossible daughter and he felt the grove and the sapling that was his son. His life—all not quite nineteen years of it—seemed to flow out of him with the blood. All his memories, all his hopes and fears, feelings of inadequacy, and moments of fun were pouring out of him too. Not into nothingness, but into the grove, and especially into the sapling. He remembered the struggle to memorize his lines and the even greater struggles with math and science which had never seemed to make sense. He remembered the games and usually being the last one to get the joke or solve the riddle.
It hadn’t been a great life. Not the sort of life that you might read about in books. He was no Edison or Einstein, that was for sure. And that hurt, especially since both his parents were really smart people. Life had started to get good only after they had been brought here by Pucorl. A giggle of juvenile delight bubbled up at the thought of Sir Pucorl in a van. He really was now, Jeff realized, a true chevalier, knighted by the king of France for gallantry. Jeff wished that he was brave like Pucorl, Liane or Roger, or smart like Jennifer, Wilber, or Bill. Good with his hands like Annabelle, quick witted like Lakshmi or his parents. But he was just Jeff.
“No!” Ilektrismós, the retired lightning bolt of Zeus, spoke in Jeff’s mind and aloud as well. Everyone heard the thunder in that voice. “I have known heroes, lad. Many of them. Compared to you, Achilles was all heel.”
It was with those words floating in his mind that Jeff Martin passed away. But not all the way away. For the netherworld is a cyclic place and death is only the bottom of the cycle. His presence was still there in the grove, a part of the trees and the grass, even the air. Like Arthur Pendragon, Jeff would return in the course of time, when he was needed again.
Paul looked at Jeff lying there on the ground and started to cry. Amelia reached out to her son and held him close, noting that Catvia was doing the same for the little girl who had called Jeff “Daddy.” Jeff was dead and it wasn’t Catvia who had done it. It was grim necessity and the needs of survival. In order to save them, Jeff had put off help for too long. Maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference. It wasn’t like they had Monsignor Savona and Raphico here to cure him with a miracle, but there might have been something they could have done to save him.
Even as she stood there looking at the body it changed, it was not decaying. More like fading away, feeding into the grove in a nimbus of golden light that brought every tree in the grove to full bloom. Dryads were sitting up and yawning all over the place.
Catvia was shaking her head. “This is nothing to what he would have done in a full life.”
Amelia wanted to slap her for the cynicism in that comment, but there were tears in Catvia’s eyes, as well as those of the little girl. Amelia couldn’t tell and doubted if Catvia knew how much of that regret was for the loss of Jeff and how much was for the loss of support. Which, Amelia realized, didn’t make Catvia all that different from most people.
For Annabelle it was different. She felt the shock of loss but it was buffered by a strange feeling, she felt Jeff. Felt him in the trees of the dryads grove that glowed with life and vigor, his kindness and sense of fairness and generosity that gave Catvia, Asuma, and Coach the devices they’d been called to. It was in the rich green of the grass and crispness of the air. She knew she must be imagining that feeling, that comfort. The feeling that Jeff was still somehow here in the grove was, must be, just her mind refusing to face the reality of Jeff’s death. But she clung to that feeling. She needed it.
It was only a short walk from the dryad’s grove to the garage, so they were all waiting by the time Gabriel Delaflote got there with Archimedes and a way out of the netherworld that didn’t lead back to a cell or a locked garage.
They started to climb into the van, then Kitten said, “I’m going too!” By now they had all been introduced.
Catvia stopped stock still, then turned to her daughter. She didn’t, as Annabelle thought she would, say no. Instead she asked, “Why?”
Kitten’s tail lifted, curled over her shoulder, and the tip came to her mouth. She chewed at it as another child might chew her nails. “I want to see my daddy’s world. I need to see the world that made him and made part of me.”
That was rather mature for a kid, Annabelle thought. But then this wasn’t exactly a kid. Kitten was a dryad, and a dryad with a dataport behind her left ear. Something Paul had demanded as soon as he saw it. One thing was for sure, Kitten was smarter than her daddy. Annabelle felt guilty as soon as that thought came to her. It was true, but it was the least part of Jeff Martin. Character is not always dependent on intellect, and Jeff had proved beyond any reasonable doubt that he had character.
Now disarmed, Captain LeFevre stood and watched with a bemused expression on his face. That was the other issue. Whether to take him back with them, or leave him stuck here. Leaving him here might not be the best thing for his survival prospects. The dryads of the grove were quite fond of Jeff in the somewhat cynical way of dryads. But that was before he died in their grove. For to die in the netherworld was to be absorbed by it. Not just the blood and bone, not even just the life force, but the character. Jeff might have been a sucker and a sap. Annabelle was convinced that he was, but he was also brave, generous—and when it came down to it—self-sacrificing. That, too, was part of the grove now and mixed with a character that made its living sucking the life force from more powerful demons by making it enjoyable. How that would work out over time was impossible to predict, but right now all it meant to the dryads was an understanding of how much they had lost with Jeff dead.
They were pissed. And, for that matter, so was Annabelle. There was a part of her that wanted to let them do whatever they wanted with LeFevre, but she didn’t want his essence corrupting Jeff’s grove. “We should take him too,” Annabelle said.
“She’s right,” Pucorl said. “I don’t want him polluting my grease pit.”
Captain LeFevre started to heave a sigh, then Pucorl said, “We can always shoot him after we get back to the mortal lands. Or I can run over him a few times.”
Captain LeFevre’s expression was priceless.
Wilber said, “You go ahead. Drop Captain LeFevre in a village somewhere, then come back here. Merlin and I need to do some stuff.”
“What do you need to do?” Mrs. Grady asked.
“Merlin is still half in the custody of the king. It’s bad enough for the rest of you whose computers didn’t make it out, but Merlin is a special case. He’s half here with me and half back in Paris. And, bad as that is here, it’s going to be worse in the mortal realm. The Bluetooth connection between my implant and my computer is not going to reach fifty miles, even with a magical assist. Besides, that computer is mine. All our computers and stuff belong to us, not to King Charles. We need to get them back.”
There was general agreement on that score, but Annabelle asked, “So what are you going to do about it?”
“Merlin and I are going to make a pentagram in bay three.” He pointed at the red garage door. Pucorl’s Garage had been evolving over time. Now it had three bays, two gas pumps, and a store attached. The store sold Twinkies and Snowballs, hot dogs and microwave hamburgers. The food content of those things had come from the mortal realm over the course of the last few months. But the shape and taste was a product of the magic of Pucorl’s Garage.
Annabelle looked at Pucorl. The van’s lights came on and went off in a pattern that Annabelle knew was Pucorl’s way of drumming his fingers on a desk or cracking his knuckles. Just one of those quirks that people had while they thought hard about something.
She looked back at Wilber. “You know that’s a pretty big deal, right? Pucorl letting Merlin have a door into his realm.”
“I know, and so does Merlin,” Wilber agreed. He went over and sat on the bench by the door to the store part of the garage. “But we need some sort of strong link to Pucorl’s lands. Either that or Merlin and I need to go back to his lands.”
Merlin’s territory was located in the netherworld, in a place roughly analogous to the cathedral at Notre Dame, but a few energy states below it.
“Demonic geography lessons,” Annabelle muttered.
“Yes, but important,” Wilber agreed. “Look, Pucorl, I know you’ve been coming up in the world lately and Merlin isn’t trying to ride your coattails, in spite of how it may seem.”
“I understand that,” Pucorl said. “But you know that whatever the intent, a gate like that is going to leak.”
“I do know that,” Wilber said. “And so does Merlin.”
“You guys know the answer, don’t you?” Roger said. Roger hadn’t said more than a word or two since Jeff died. He was doing the stone-face routine well enough to make General Bertrand du Guesclin jealous.
“No, Roger,” Wilber said, “I don’t.”
“What about Themis?” Wilber asked. “She’s way off to the east, analogous to Greece or Babylon.”
“Not all of her,” Roger said. “Her sword is in Paris.”
“I understand that, but how does that help us?”
“Because it’s her sword. If we bring it here, Themis can put in a gate that won’t leak.” That was true. Themis was at a slightly lower level than Merlin was, but Themis was a titan. She could make and manage gates with much greater control, not to mention power, than Merlin could.
“You’re saying we need Themis’ sword? You think she will agree to that?”
Roger shrugged. “I don’t know. She left the sword enchanted and in spite of how it seemed, I don’t think it was because she had to. All we can do is ask, and to ask I’m going to need to put my hands on the sword.”
“That means we have two options. We do a snatch and grab of all our stuff including the sword, or we negotiate with King Charles.”
“Do you think we can trust him?” Annabelle asked. “He killed Jeff. It might have been one of the guards who pulled the trigger, but it was Charles who gave the orders that made it happen.”
“Frankly,” Catvia said, “I’d rather turn him into a eunuch. And I’m just the cat to do it.” Her fingernails turned into claws, which retracted and extended.
Mrs. Grady held up a hand. “Catvia, we can’t live here in the netherworld indefinitely, whatever has happened to the veil. We have to be able to operate in the mortal realm, and being outlaws in France won’t make that easier. Just or not, we are going to have to come to some sort of an arrangement with King Charles.”
“You can’t live here,” Catvia said. “But I can. My daughter can.”
“No, Mama. I need to go to the mortal realm. At least for a time,” Kitten repeated. “I need to learn that part of my name.”
Location: Pucorl’s Lands
Time: August 10, 1372
Themis, with the consent of the lord, stepped into Pucorl’s lands and, again with Pucorl’s consent, made some adjustments.
With the consent of Merlin and Pucorl, the pentagram in bay two, connecting Pucorl’s lands with Merlin’s, was shifted to a separate room just off the garage proper. And a new pentagram for Themis was installed. Along with a cellular connection for Iris’ phone system.
Annabelle was checking Pucorl’s oil when the titan, Themis, arrived.
“Lord Pucorl,” Themis said, “we need to talk.”
Annabelle started to close the van’s hood in preparation to leave, but Pucorl said, “No, Annabelle. Please stay.”
“This is nothing secret, Annabelle,” Themis said kindly. “In fact, it will soon be known throughout this part of the netherworld.
“In the same battle that Roger killed Philip the Traitor, Pucorl subsumed the demon Beslizoswian, and the rules of combat must in all propriety be applied equally. If Roger gained my sword by right of combat, then Pucorl’s victory over Beslizoswian must have a similar effect.”
“But Pucorl got all that Beslizoswian had on the field. He—” Annabelle swallowed. “—ate Beslizoswian. I know. I was there when he did it. I felt it.”
Suddenly Themis was looking at her. And it felt like the titan of proper behavior was looking into her soul and seeing every fantasy, every unkind or unjust thought or feeling that Annabelle had ever had. Then Themis smiled and Annabelle felt that the titan not so much forgave her her faults, but understood and accepted them. “So you were, and so you did. But perhaps you didn’t understand what was happening. Don’t feel bad. I rather doubt Pucorl understood either.
“Knowing or not, when Roger claimed my sword, he claimed sovereignty over me and in that sovereignty, he claimed sovereignty over my lands, for the lord is the land. The land of Themis is a huge place and at the moment of his death by far the greatest part of Philip the Traitor’s chattels.
“That Roger returned the sword to me, and with it my sovereignty, was both generous and proper, because Philip the Traitor, under Beslizoswian’s influence, had seized my sovereignty over myself and my lands most improperly.”
Annabelle noted again that Themis refused to call him Philip the Bold, as the history books had.
“However, Pucorl’s defeat of Beslizoswian was most decidedly not improper; he was doing his proper duty in a war to defend an ally and was fully within his rights. Pucorl is the lord of all the lands that were part of Beslizoswian when Pucorl absorbed him. The smaller part that was separated by my sword stroke and later when Beslizoswian tried to steal me, those are mine. But the greater part, those are Pucorl’s lands.”
Themis laid a hand on Pucorl’s windshield. “I do not grant these lands, for they are not mine to grant, but as the titan of proper behavior, I declare them Pucorl’s lands, held in all propriety.” And as she spoke, there was a golden light that grew from the place where her hand touched Pucorl to cover the van and from there to Pucorl’s garage.
And it felt to Annabelle that it expanded from there to . . . well, everywhere.
Far away, beneath Themis’ lands, the world shook and the Caverns of Torment began to move.
Location: Road in France
Time: August 11, 1372
Pucorl the van downshifted with an electronic thought, and wished he had decent roads to drive on. He considered how a nice demon like him had ended up on this muddy track that was one of the better roads in France in the year 1372. Some of the integrated circuits that constituted the physical part of his mind managed fuel flow, compression, spark timing, and so on, with a flow and precision that would have amazed the software designers of the twenty-first century who programmed the system to run the Mercedes van. But other chips, along with the demonic essence that imbued them, had time to ponder and Pucorl had a lot to ponder about.
For a very long timeless sort of time, he’d been a minor demon occasionally called to the mortal realm by hedge witches or shamans. Stretching back to before men were men and forward in the probabilities until men had explored most of their mortal solar system and had even sent, in some of the probabilities, probes off to other stars.
And even more vaguely into the dim recesses of the past before man arose and even dimmer possibilities where man had gone extinct to be replaced by other animals or even not replaced.
All that ended when he was summoned by a spell that never should have worked. A spell so sloppily cast that it might have called anything from a puck like Pucorl to a demon of the pit, or worse, a saint or angel of Christianity.
As it turned out, it was probably a good thing for the fourteenth century that Doctor Gabriel Delaflote hadn’t known what he was doing. And Pucorl admitted to himself, much better for Pucorl as well.
Since there wasn’t a container in the calling pentagram, Pucorl got to choose his own. Being pulled from the netherworld through the probabilities to the mortal world, he’d grabbed a van from twenty-first century Paris to be his “container.” At the time he was being sucked from the netherworld to the mortal realm and he’d never had to choose his own container before. So the choice was not much better than random.
Having done that, he found himself owned by Amelia Grady, the owner and one of the occupants of the van in question.
It was a perfectly natural mistake, Pucorl justified himself. After all, the van came with an excellent self-driving program, so Pucorl sensed that it was quite capable of driving itself.
Anyway . . .
Stuck in the van which was owned by Mrs. Grady, Pucorl was owned by Mrs. Grady. He’d had to make the best of it.
He met Annabelle Cooper-Smith who took care of him—well, the van, but now him too, since he was the van now. And he rather liked her. In fact, he rather liked most of them. In the casual “this too shall pass” way that immortal demon kind liked or disliked mortals.
Until they’d been attacked by Beslizoswian and his pet human Philip the Bold.
Beslizoswian had grabbed Mrs. Grady’s son, and Pucorl, on his own initiative, drove into the Demon Lord and pinned him against the wall. That forced him to release Paul Grady and retreat with nothing to show for his trouble other than an iron crossbow bolt in his gonads.
That act of selfless bravery (Pucorl still didn’t know what he’d been thinking at the time.) had impressed the heck out of Mrs. Grady and King Charles of France. Mrs. Grady had given him the van, which provided him with a consistent form, a very big deal for a demon. And King Charles had enobled him. Which made the place he lived his land. And as a side note shifted them from the netherworld to the Elysian Fields.
And then Pucorl had discovered that he liked Annabelle Cooper-Smith a lot more than the casual “this too shall pass” way that a demon was supposed to be fond of a mortal. In fact, he was so fond of Annabelle that he was afraid that his heart might break when, in the course of years, she passed away. He used the dash cam to look at her sitting in his driver’s seat, biting her lower lip as she thought about the plans she was looking at, and was entranced. Then he went back to trying to figure out just what he was going to do.
Anyway, the twenty-firsters, Annabelle and her friends, arrival in this time had proved a good thing for France because, still under the influence of Beslizoswian—and armed with the sword that contained the kidnapped titan Themis—Philip the Bold had raised bloody rebellion, not to mention an army of thousands of zombies, to contest for the throne of France.
They defeated every army they met and came to besiege Paris. And that was where Philip the Bold met his doom. His doom was named Roger McLean and was one of the twenty-firsters. Roger shot Philip the Bold with a demon-lock rifle and with the encouragement of the Angel Raphico had taken the sword as the spoils of war.
But Roger didn’t take the sword for his own benefit. Instead, he took it to free the titan Themis and send her home.
That didn’t matter to King Charles, who threw all the twenty-firsters in the dungeon and stole their stuff. Roger didn’t take that well. Taking the sword that had contained Themis and was still a doorway to her realm and power, he drove it into the stone floor of the castle’s great hall and dared King Charles to prove the justice of his claims by drawing the sword from the stone.
That was a direct threat to the royal authority and almost got Roger’s head chopped off.
But cooler heads prevailed.
The twenty-firsters escaped and managed to rescue a lot of their stuff, but in the process Jeff Martin was killed by a king’s guard.
The twenty-firsters, and for that matter, Pucorl, were pissed.
Boiling raging mad, furiously pissed.
At the same time they couldn’t go to war with King Charles of France. The only real choice was to leave, which they did along with Bertrand du Guesclin, the former Grand Constable of France, and an embassy from the pope to the Greek Orthodox church.
And that, when all was said and done, was why Pucorl the demon-enchanted twenty-first century Mercedes van was driving along a muddy path that had pretensions of roadhood at the tag end of the 14th century in a mortal world in which magic had started working eight or so months gone by.
Pucorl lifted his left front wheel a little so that it would roll more smoothly over a tree root that was sticking up out of the mud. In another hour or so they would make camp and he could transfer to his lands and get out of this rain for a bit.
His lands . . . that was another thing. Pucks like Pucorl weren’t supposed to have lands. Especially not the sort of massive lands that a demon lord like Beslizoswian controlled. But he did have lands and power that made him more than a puck. All of which he would gladly give back to have Annabelle live just a little longer.
Pucorl wasn’t the only one who was wishing that things were different.
Chapter 2: The King’s New Phone
Location: Hôtel Saint-Pol
Time: August 11, 1372
Charles V was still smarting over the way things had gone with the twenty-firsters. He was even still angry with Bertrand. More angry, he knew, because Bertrand had been right.
Nicolas du Bosc came in, carrying Charles’ new phone, freshly enchanted with a brownie, now named Lord de Versailles. The title was part of the deal. “Greetings, Your Majesty. I would bow as I ought, but I lack the means.”
Charles laughed. And felt better.
“I was speaking to Lord de Versailles on our way back from the university,” Nicolas said, “and he mentioned the truly massive amount of gold and silver in the Americas.”
“The Americas? The twenty-firsters came from there, most of them? Not just from the future, but from a land across the wide Atlantic called the United States of America? And the school they attended was the American School in Paris?” It wasn’t that Charles was unaware of the place, but there simply hadn’t been time to deal with places of legend across an ocean while he was in the midst of a war with England and a revolution at home.
“Yes, Your Majesty. But that wasn’t the only nation in the Americas, and at this time that part of the Americas is inhabited with savage natives. No, the gold is in a place that they call Mexico.”
He handed the phone to Charles, and on it there appeared a map of the world, which became a map of the Atlantic Ocean, showing France, England, Spain and the route from Le Havre to a country just north of the equator in America labeled Mexico.
“Right now, or in two hundred years, that region will be dominated by a people who practice human sacrifice to appease their false gods. It’s our Christian duty to put a stop to such barbarity, and to show the heathens the true faith.”
“You said something about gold.”
“Yes. The region is full of gold and silver, much of it already mined and smelted. However, they lack both bronze and iron, much less the good steel that the twenty-firsters taught us to make. And they have never even heard of gunpowder.”
France wasn’t broke, thanks to the introduction of partial reserve banking and paper money. In fact, in spite of the recent conflict, it was actually experiencing a bit of an economic boom. Mostly through the good offices of the University of Paris’ new colleges of magical arts and engineering. The college of medicine had also benefited from the knowledge the twenty-firsters brought. In spite of that, the royal treasury could very much use an influx of gold and silver.
“What would it take?”
“Sailing ships or steam ships,” Lord de Versailles said. “For sailing ships, better rigging. Magic in the form of enchanting the ships would help, but isn’t actually necessary. The difficulty would be to send a large enough force to be able to persuade the natives to give up their practices and, ah, their gold.”
“I don’t want to go through the twenty-firsters for this,” Charles said. “Check with the University of Paris and get a shipwright from Le Havre.”
Location: University of Paris
Time: August 12, 1372
The newly formed College of Engineering at the University of Paris was located in an old and drafty building, but it was only a block away from the computer lab where His Majesty’s computer was on semi-permanent loan to the university.
It consisted of a large lecture hall and five offices for the professors of engineering. They were all professors of natural philosophy who had studied with Jennifer Fairbanks while the twenty-firsters had been living and working in Paris.
Pierre Lorian was working on the design of an interrupted screw when the knock on his door came. “Yes! What is it?” he shouted in anger.
“Sorry, Professor. A message from the computer lab.”
With an effort, Pierre got himself under control. He wasn’t an even-tempered man as anyone might tell you, but he was exceedingly good at figuring things out.
“What is it, Jean?” He held out his hand and Jean Corbit, his assistant and senior graduate student, put the message in his hand.
From His Royal Majesty
It is our desire that a design for a new ship capable of crossing the Atlantic Ocean be developed. The ship should be able to carry at least a hundred men at arms and their equipage. Two hundred would be better. We wish that such improvements in sailing rig and hull design as you can discover be incorporated into the design.
This matter is sensitive and the twenty-firsters should not be consulted.
His Royal Majesty Charles V of France.
“Well, merde,” Pierre muttered. “Jean, what do you know about ships?”
“Almost nothing, sir. But I did take the liberty of asking the king’s computer what it knew. A catamaran has two hulls, a trimaran three, and along with mono hulls, both catamarans and trimerans are used in the twenty-first century for sailing yachts. There were no sail-powered cargo ships in the twentieth century, at least His Majesty’s computer didn’t know of any.”
“How does it know about the catamarans?”
“Trésor de la langue française.” Jean shrugged, naming the French dictionary that was in each of the computers that the twenty-firsters brought. It was apparently issued by the American School in Paris, along with Websters for English. There was also the Encyclopédie and the Encyclopedia Britannica.
“Between them, with demonic cross-referencing, they do provide a solid outline for what they had. There are also references to lantine, jib, and other sail types, with pictures. I have an artist at the king’s computer copying the images in the articles on sailing.”
“I bet the other scholars were thrilled with that,” Pierre said with a grin.
“I escaped with my life,” Jean said, smiling back. The king’s computer was the most valuable resource of the University of Paris by several orders of magnitude. “There was nothing anyone could do. Duke Gandalf is the king’s computer and quite aware of that fact. He flatly refused to do anything else until the drawings were made.”
The king’s computer was inhabited by a demon who answered to the king first and then cooperated with the university and everyone else as it saw fit.
Over the next several days the design team grew to include a shipwright from Le Havre, two engineering drafters, and two model makers, who started carving small scale hulls of various configurations to test their speed and stability in the water.
They also devolved into two camps. One was led by the shipwright Gaston, who wanted a monohull and was convinced that the catamaran design would come apart on high seas. The other was led by Pierre Lorian, who was convinced that the speed advantage, combined with the fact that it could carry more than twice as many soldiers with the same displacement meant that the catamaran or trimaran configurations would be much better.
Duke Gandalf didn’t feel he knew enough, and wanted to consult with Merlin in Wilber’s computer, because Merlin had a good physics simulator program and a virtual life-size model could be made and put to the test.
The issue was secrecy.
Chapter 3: Pucorl’s Majordomo
Location: Pucorl’s Lands
Time: August 14, 1372
All in all, Cavalier Pucorl de Elysium, or in English, Sir Pucorl of Elysium, was pleased with his form. The van was a very good van and kept in excellent repair by Annabelle. It, however, did not have hands. Nor a tongue, lips, nose, or much in the way of a sense of touch. He had some of the last, and could sort of taste the difference between the diesel that was in his tanks when he first “became” the van and the biodiesel that he was using now.
But most of all, just at this moment, he didn’t have hands. Hands with which to knock the crap out of Besisusok, the former majordomo/assistant torturer to Beslizoswian, whose “lands” had, until quite recently, been located beneath the titan, Themis. Those lands, with a hearty assist from Themis, were rapidly approaching Pucorl’s lands, which they would considerably expand in length, width, and most especially depth.
It wasn’t that Pucorl couldn’t destroy the creature. He could gobble it up, rip its structure to shreds, and all sorts of horrible things, which Besisusok certainly realized. What Pucorl couldn’t do was give him a wedgie, box his ears, or punch him in the eye. All of which he richly deserved for being, well, him.
Besisusok stood about three feet tall, had a toothed beak and looked rather like a turkey, except for the fact that he had arms where his wings ought to be. The arms ended in three-clawed hands with an opposable thumb. And he was modeled on any number of small raptor style dinosaurs, not one of which had made it into the fossil record. But he was probably most closely related to a daemonosaurus. He was also a bit light on the feathers department, giving him what to Pucorl’s cameras was a half-dressed look.
Though it was quite clear from his snooty attitude that he felt he was just the most elegant dinosaur ever to munch on a rat-sized mammal.
“So as the new ‘lord’. . .” Besisusok’s tone made it clear that he didn’t feel that Pucorl was up to the job, “. . . of the caverns of Beslizoswian, you have an obligation to continue to provide mammalian souls for the feeding and entertainment of your subjects.”
The subjects/children of Beslizoswian had been dining on the fears of mammals since before they were mammals and over the last million years or so had figured prominently in the nightmares of Neanderthals. However, such fine fare had been sorely lacking for the last fifteen thousand years or so, and Besisusok felt that as the new lord of Beslizoswian’s Caverns of Torment, it was Pucorl’s job to fix it.
They were in Pucorl’s garage. Well, Pucorl was in his garage. Besisusok was standing just outside the garage, looking around at the blacktop and looking at Pucorl with one large black eye, then the other.
And Pucorl, a puck recently promoted way above his level of competence, didn’t have a clue what to do. The truth was that Pucorl had expected Themis to keep Beslizoswian’s Caverns of Torment or maybe give them to her sister Nemesis. He got on his internal phone and called Merlin, Themis, and Annabelle. Themis was amused, but busy trying to reorganize and repair the land of Themis, so didn’t have time to do more than remind him that he was the lord and could do pretty much what he wanted. She did say, “I will take it as a personal favor if you show respect for the freedom of your people.”
Merlin used Pucorl’s speakers to have a chat with Besisusok and found in him a somewhat kindred spirit.
No wonder Besisusok was such a putz.
Both of them had a lot more earth in their makeup than Pucorl did, though Merlin had more air and Besisusok more fire. But they were both sticks in the mud.
Annabelle, though, looked at the situation as a mechanic. “Well, if those lands are going to be part of you, Pucorl, they are going to need to be reworked to fit your new style. Remember, you’re not in the netherworld anymore, much less down in the lower levels below Themis. You’re a knight in the Elysian Fields now.
“Wait there. I’ll come out.” Annabelle was having dinner in the “quickie mart” when Besisusok arrived.
Pucorl’s lands were quite advanced. That was true even before Pucorl subsumed Beslizoswian and Themis determined that Beslizoswian’s lands were now Pucorl’s. In part, that was because Pucorl could use his new body as the template for structuring the magic that was his lands into things. It was also because of the Dryad’s Grove that had attached itself to his lands. And, in large part, it was because of Wilber Hyde-Davis.
Pucorl liked Wilber, honestly he did. But Wilber was human, which meant that Wilber did have hands. And Wilber was the same basic shape as Annabelle, which Pucorl felt was an altogether unfair advantage in the romance department. Which made very little sense for a demon-enchanted Mercedes Benz van, but that was how Pucorl felt.
Annabelle arrived wearing a jumpsuit and followed by Wilber Hyde-Davis in a zippered doublet and gray slacks.
Who invited him? Pucorl thought, knowing the answer as soon as he thought the question. Merlin, of course. Merlin was Wilber’s Kisoonik, a demonic word that could translate as chancellor, counselor, or teacher, or half a dozen other words, all of which meant something like “adviser of great importance.”
“Yes!” hissed Besisusok “We can feed on these.”
“Hey, Annabelle, Pucorl’s new liege man . . . ah, liege turkey wants to eat us.” Wilber didn’t seem all that concerned.
Annabelle looked at Wilber. “For real?”
“His exact words were, ‘Yes! We can feed on these.’ ” Wilber even managed to get Besisusok’s leering hiss as he translated the words.
Annabelle looked at the small demon like he was something she’d scraped off her shoe. Which was fine with Pucorl, until she looked at him for an explanation. “And it darn well better be a good one” was clear in her eyes.
“He just showed up,” Pucorl whined. “Apparently he was Beslizoswian’s Kisoonik, ah, performed Merlin’s role in Beslizoswian’s Caverns of Torment.”
“Caverns of Torment?” Annabelle asked.
Pucorl opened his driver’s side door for Annabelle.
“Merlin?” Wilber asked as Annabelle climbed into Pucorl’s driver’s seat.
“He worked for Beslizoswian, who was his creator,” Merlin explained from Wilber’s phone. “It’s natural that he would mimic his father’s habits and attitudes.”
Pucorl closed his driver’s side door. Wilber could find his own chair.
“I don’t get it,” Annabelle said. “Why create demons? And I mean Themis as much as Beslizoswian. What’s the point?”
“You mean why do I exist?” asked Merlin from the phone in Wilber’s pocket.
Annabelle looked out the window at Merlin. “Nothing against you, Merlin, but yes.”
“How many things can you think about at once?” Wilber asked.
“I get that, but I’m human. A pretty bright human if I say so myself, but I don’t have the intellect of a titan.”
“It’s not a matter of intellect,” Pucorl explained, “not for the most part. Intellect plays a role, but as often as not, it makes creating a demon more necessary, not less. A philosophical hammer is not a happy hammer. Instead, it’s a bored and resentful hammer that would rather be doing something more challenging than banging on nails. Like maybe banging on fingernails. That at least might be good for a laugh.”
“Think of it as semi-intentional multiple personality disorder,” Wilber said, “except they don’t just think they are multiple people. They actually become multiple people. Even if they don’t want to, they end up splitting into pieces when they have contradictory goals, like god of destruction and god of creation. Both are necessary, but don’t get along well at all.
“So they’ve learned to do it in a controlled way. The gods and titans are really good at it. Crafting demons and angels, not to mention noble knights and the horses they ride in on. Smaller demons, like Pucorl here, are less controlled in the spawning. Or, if they can manage it, staying in one piece.”
Anabelle looked at Besisusok. “What about revolts and that sort of thing?”
“They can happen,” Merlin confirmed. “Pucorl is somewhat protected by Themis’ declaring his conquest valid. That means that Besisusok here wouldn’t just have to defeat Pucorl, but would then have to face Themis.”
“I would never attempt such a thing, Lord Pucorl. Don’t believe these slanderers! I beg you!” Besisusok was seriously cringing now. Which made a lot of sense. Beslizoswian couldn’t have been fun to work for. More importantly, Pucorl was pretty sure that the little bastard was lying. He wasn’t all that good at it.
“He’s lying,” Annabelle whispered.
At the same time, Merlin said the same thing over the phone. Wilber’s phone texted him with the same message. And Wilber sent him the same thing over bluetooth.
Besisusok looked at Annabelle in horror, then turned and started to run.
“Get him!” Annabelle shouted.
A raptor is fast. Even a punk arse turkey raptor like Besisusok. However, that’s fast in comparison to a rabbit or a muskrat, or, to be honest, a human on foot. But it is not fast in comparison to a tricked out demon-possessed van with a wrought iron cow catcher.
Besisusok made five yards before it was caught by Pucorl’s cow catcher and flung off the blacktop to land in a field of Pucorl’s lands. By the time everyone else got there, Annabelle was looking down at the broken, but not dead, body of a dinosaur demon. Besisusok would have been nothing but smoke and gravel if Pucoral had willed it so, but Annabelle had said “get him” not “kill him.”
“What are we going to do?” Annabelle asked, clearly on the edge of tears.
They’d all been through a great deal, and Annabelle was with Pucorl in both his fights with Beslizoswian, including the one in which Beslizoswian was subsumed by Pucorl. But there was not a body that time. And Beslizoswian was so freaking terrifying that all Annabelle had felt at its destruction was relief. But this was different. This was small, it looked like a turkey, it was running away. And it was her command that broke it. She would have said killed it, except it was still mewing like an injured seagull.
Annabelle was on the verge of breaking.
In truth, it wasn’t the dinosaur demon. It was the culmination of everything. Everything they had faced since Pucorl had grabbed their van off a twenty-first century Paris street and dropped it in the fourteenth century. And Jeff’s death, indirectly at the hands of Charles of France, was only weeks past.
By now, all the twenty-firsters were close in that special way that a combat unit or even a sports team can become close. And, at the moment, this felt to Annabelle like Jeff’s death. It wasn’t, and she knew it wasn’t, but it felt like it.
It was Wilber’s voice that brought her back from the edge. “We can rebuild him,” Wilber said in a not bad imitation of Oscar Goldman’s voice-over. “We have the technology. We can make him better than he was before. Stronger, faster and—” Wilber went back to his own voice. “—a heck of a lot nicer.”
“How did you even know about that show?” Mrs. Grady asked, coming to join them next to the driveway. “You weren’t born when that series was on. I wouldn’t know about it, except I saw it in a history of television course in college.”
Wilber tapped his ear. “Bionic ear. That’s what a cochlear implant is.”
“Well, I don’t know about that show or series or whatever it was,” Annabelle said, irritated but distracted from the near collapse she’d felt moments ago.
“It was a TV series back in the twentieth century,” Mrs. Grady said. “The Six Million Dollar Man. An astronaut got almost killed in a crash and they rebuilt him. Bionic legs, bionic eye, bionic all sorts of stuff.”
“For six million dollars? What’d they do? Go to a bargain bionics store for the parts.”
“Money bought more then,” Mrs. Grady said.
“The point is,” Wilber said, “we can rebuild him.” He pointed at the daemonosaurus slowly bleeding on the grass of Pucorl’s lands.
“Really?” Mrs. Grady said, finally looking at the daemonosaurus. “I know you’ve been studying magic, but six months isn’t all that long to learn and . . . ” She trailed off, clearly not sure what to say.
“The question is: should we?” Merlin said from the phone in Wilber’s breast pocket. The pocket was specially made for Wilber’s phone, with a slot to give the camera access and a buttoned flap to keep it secure. “Or rather, should Pucorl?”
“And we probably ought to decide before it bleeds out on the lawn,” Wilber said.
As soon as Wilber said that, Pucorl found himself in conference with Merlin, Rolls Royce, Igor, Catvia, and Annabelle’s computer John, named for John Willys, the founder of the company that designed the Jeep.
They spoke in a blending of demonic and binary that would give nightmares to anything from a god to a devil, and would fry the circuits of a supercomputer unless it was enchanted by a demon. Wilber could speak it, and so could Kitten and her brother, Jeff Junior. Jeff Junior was a tree in the dryad’s grove. And soon enough he and Kitten had joined the conversation by way of bluetooth connections.
Catvia brought up the question if it was right for Pucorl to rebuild the daemonosaurus without its permission.
Merlin said, “Pucorl owns not just the body, but the demon’s entire substance.”
“And yet freedom,” Asuma chimed in. “It is a question of proper behavior. I suggest that you consult with Themis.”
“Themis has already said that Pucorl can do pretty much whatever he likes in his own lands,” Merlin said. “For the lord is the land. Even if it was insanely generous of Themis to cede three-quarters of the caverns of Beslizoswian to Pucorl.”
“While we’re discussing it,” John said to Pucorl, “why don’t you slow time so the daemonosaurus doesn’t bleed out?”
Pucorl did that, and the discussion continued at computer speed, made even faster by virtue of the fact that the time that was removed from the daemonosaurus was convenient to speed up their talk.
The conclusion they reached was that while Pucorl had the right to do with Besisusok whatever it decided to do, it would be proper to ask it whether it would prefer to be remade or just eaten. Pucorl was new to this, so decided to be polite just this once.
Besisusok was shocked to learn that he, one, had a choice, and, two, wasn’t going to be tortured for thousands of cycles before finally being allowed to sort of die. It decided to be remade and was put back in stasis while Pucorl, with the help of Wilber, Merlin and Annabelle rebuilt it. That took some time and rather a lot of debate. A bay in Pucorl’s garage was temporarily turned into an operating theatre and the actual repairs were done by Wilber and Annabelle. His brain was rebuilt, using chips from Pucorl’s internal computer. That is, magical copies of chips from Pucorl’s internal computers. His hips were reshaped into a set of automotive ball joints as were his knees, ankles and toes, also shoulders, elbows, wrists and so on. Muscles were what he had, reshaped by copying Wilber’s on a smaller scale to give him an upright stance. And on and on. All covered in a flexible stone skin.
The form they decided on was a gnome named Carl. Carl was made of living stone, but he had ball joints where his metal bones connected. He had a computer in his belly and he got his sustenance mostly by plugging into a wall socket. He was about three and a half feet tall with a pointed red hat that was an antenna for an internal phone system that was hooked into the phone network of Pucorl’s lands.
And his job was going to be to reorder the Cavern’s of Torment into rather more pleasant places. Just how pleasant was something that they were going to have to work out as they went along.
Time in Pucorl’s lands was, to an extent, up to Pucorl, so they spent several days in surgery while only an hour or so passed in the rest of Pucorl’s lands. And no time at all passed for Besisusok, now Carl. One moment he was laying on the grass, back and legs shattered and agony coursing through him, and the next he was waking up on the operating table, a stone gnome with a titanium skeleton and servos and a computer as part of his brain. He still had all his memories, which was more of a curse than a blessing, because he remembered eons of torturing people. Mostly Neanderthals, but people nonetheless. And with his new personality, he felt guilty about that.
Still, it was necessary because his core programming meant that he was going to be responsible for making the Caverns of Torment into a research and development facility and whatever else the boss decided he was going to need. Not a place of torture and torment.
“What,” he wondered, “am I going to do with all those tortured Neanderthal souls?”