The Demons of Paris
A new series by Eric Flint, Gorg Huff and Paula Goodlett!
It’s January of 1372 and the space-time continuum has been breached by a great rift. Demons, imps, and spirits, evil and benign, spill into the universe from the netherworld.
In Paris, a series of grisly murders that couldn’t possibly be performed by a human, no matter how depraved, leads the Grand Chatelet and his men to try and raise a demon of their own to learn how to combat the creature that is terrorizing the city.
Unfortunately—or perhaps fortunately—the demon who is summoned brings with him a van from the Paris of the twenty-first century. The van contains a modern day drama teacher, her son, and eight precocious high school students—along with all of their electronic devices. Soon, their laptops, tablets and cell-phones become possessed by imps and spirits of the netherworld, some of whom are brilliant and all of whom are insatiably curious.
Soon it’s a race to see which pack of outsiders can create the most turmoil in the late Middle Ages—monstrous demons or precocious teenagers who soon have their own allies and followers among the ranks of demonkind.
And King Charles V had already been in trouble! Piled onto his own poor health, a suspicious and contentious church, France’s always-quarrelsome nobility—worst of all, his unscrupulous and ambitious brother, Philip the Bold—the king now has both demons and people from the future to contend with.
He does have one asset—and not a small one. He can place his trusted Constable of France, Bertrand du Guesclin, in charge of the rambunctious teenagers from the future and their ever-growing legion of demons. And Bertrand has a great asset of his own—his wife Tiphaine de Raguenel, perhaps the best astrologer in all of France and, for sure and certain, not a woman to take seriously the prattling nonsense of youngsters skeptical of her lore and knowledge.
Alley off Rue Cler
January 27, 1372
Commissaire Pierre Dubois of the Grand Châtelet looked down at the body. The young woman had been ripped from navel to breast and opened as though a scythe had been used. There was blood all over the alley and the woman’s heart and lungs were missing. The stench of the mutilated corpse was strong enough that Dubois barely noticed the more familiar stink left by chamber pots the nearby residents had dumped into the alley.
Pierre had never seen anything like it. Until today, he would have said that he had seen every horror that one human being could inflict on another. Pierre stopped in mid-thought. Human being. This smacked of an act of dark forces, but in Paris of 1372, magic and demonic powers were the province of storytellers from the Far East or across the Mediterranean in Egypt and Africa. Not of the civilized Christian world. At least, they hadn’t been until now.
Yet, as he looked at the blood spattered around the alley, he realized that the body had to have been hanging at least ten feet in the air when it was disemboweled. There was a piece of what might be intestine caught in a crack of the wall of a bake shop. It was next to a second floor window and from the spatter pattern it must have been flung almost horizontally. He could think of no mortal hand that could do what was done here, and especially he could think of nothing that could have done it without being noticed. The alley was just off the Rue Cler, which was busy at all hours. But no one had seen or heard a thing. Not even the baker’s family, who slept just the other side of that gore splattered wall.
Pierre realized he was going to need help. A different kind of help than he had ever needed before.
He turned to André Hébert, his aide. “Make me an appointment with the provost of the University of Paris. I think we are going to need an expert in magic.”
“Perhaps the church, sir?”
“I would rather not disturb the cardinal if we can avoid it, André.” Pierre grimaced. “He tends to be . . . overly-enthusiastic in his inquisitions.”
Office of the Provost
January 28, 1372
“Have some of our students been causing you problems, Commissaire?” the short, well-padded man in scholarly robes asked in a belligerent tone.
“I wish it were something so simple, Count Moreau.” Commissaire Dubois bowed, though his social rank was in fact as high as Count Moreau’s. The provost was a stickler and quick to take offence. “I have a murder that may have a magical component.” He was wearing his best hose and the tunic with the gold thread due to the provost’s attitude, as well as his embroidered felt hat. Pierre was decidedly uncomfortable.
“You think one of my—”
Pierre held up his hands in denial and almost supplication. “No, no, nothing like that. I need the expertise of your scholars in finding the culprit. Or even identifying the culprit.”
Moreau scratched his beard in thought. “Well, there’s Gabriel Delaflote. He is one of our scholars of Natural Philosophy, but he has an interest in alchemy and the mystic arts. Personally, I think it’s all a lot of nonsense, not good solid science like astrology.” Moreau waved to a horoscope done in colored inks on vellum, which was on an easel, with notes on a table beside it, then continued. “He insists he has spells to call an imp that will in turn be able to teach him the spells to animate objects.”
“Has he . . .” Pierre felt the color drain from his face. Could that be where the killer in the alley came from?
“No, of course not. We would need a dispensation from the church and frankly I haven’t been focusing on that. There are much more important issues between the university and the church.” Clearly reading something in Pierre’s face, Moreau continued quickly. “Gabriel is not the sort to act without authority, Commissaire. He is much too timid for such a course. But he is a meticulous collector of the detritus of bygone eras. His room is packed with old scrolls that he has laboriously copied. Invocations for everything from ancient gods to tree spirits.”
Pierre was not convinced, but he saw no advantage in challenging the provost. He would see the man and make his own judgment.
Rooms of Doctor Gabriel Delaflote,
Top Floor of the Bonouse Tower
Pierre was sweating profusely and wishing that he had not insisted on going to see Doctor Delaflote immediately. It had gotten rid of the provost, but getting to the good doctor’s combined residence and study was an arduous enterprise. Delaflote lived in the southern tower of the ramshackle residential building. To get there, you had to climb three flights of stairs, cross a narrow passageway to a different part of the edifice, go down two flights of stairs, cross yet another passageway that led to Delaflote’s tower—and then climb another three flights of stairs to get to the landing just below the doctor’s chambers. To get into Delaflote’s own room, you then had to clamber up what was more like a broad, shallow ladder than anything a sane man would call “stairs.”
Reaching the top rungs, he knocked on a door of slats, not well butted one to the next. There were clear cracks between them. Two cross pieces held the door together and the carpenter had scrimped on dowels as well as the quality of the wood.
“What?” said a squeaky tenor voice. A moment later an eye peered through a crack in the door. “You’re not a student.”
“No. I am the Commissaire of the Grand Châtelet.”
The eye disappeared. There was some shuffling, then a wooden bar was lifted away from the door. The opened door revealed a room with rugs of woven rags covering the stone floor. There were hangings on the walls, but they were all old and worn, and an icy breeze whistled through the large cracks in the walls. In one corner there was a rack full of scrolls and papers, most of which showed signs of use. Near it was a bed of sorts, blankets on a raised platform made of planks over boxes. There were two unlit tallow candles and a small lamp on a small table next to the bed.
“What can I do for you, Commissaire?”
“There was a murder.” Pierre pushed into the room as he spoke.
“I know nothing of . . .” Delaflote said, backing away.
“It was no ordinary crime, Doctor.” Pierre looked around the room and went to sit on a stool that was in serious need of repainting. “There was blood up to the second floor of the alley and the murderer seems to have been seventeen or more feet tall. And whatever it was also took the heart and the lungs.”
“That sounds horrible, but what—”
“The provost says you know about demons.”
“Only in theory, Commissaire. There are no demons any more. The pagan gods of pre-Christian times have all been washed away.”
“Well, some are apparently coming back. What can you tell me about something that can lift an adult human like a child’s rag doll?”
“I can tell you almost nothing.” The doctor held up a hand before Pierre could interrupt again. “I am not trying to avoid your questions, Commissaire. There are all sorts of things that might or might not fit your description, all of them quite impossible in this modern age. Some of them that might be summoned by men, many that might appear on their own. Giants and cyclops, dragons and demons from the pit. Even were I to see the scene of the murder, I couldn’t tell you what had done it. The ancients used spells to bring imps and minor spirits into their service to help them figure out such things.”
“Then call up an imp!” Pierre bellowed. Then he caught himself. He hadn’t realized until just this moment how truly frightened he was since seeing the murder scene. “I am sorry, Doctor. But if you had seen what I saw . . .”
“It would never be allowed, Commissaire,” the doctor said. “I have notes on the rites, but the church would never allow those rites to be performed. And I would never do them without permission.”
Pierre doubted that last protestation, but let it stand. “And if I got permission?”
“‘If you obtained the permissions of the church and civil authorities, I would be willing. It would be an interesting test of the instructions I have.”
“This test? It wouldn’t involve sacrificing anyone?”
“No, not even an animal, though a gift of some sort is expected. A lure, a loaf of bread or a flask of wine. That sort of thing. But let me warn you again, Commissaire, I cannot promise that it will work.”
Pierre nodded his acceptance of the caution. “I’ll see what I can manage, Doctor.”
February 4, 1372
Father Augustin heard a noise. It was past midnight, and he was returning home after visiting a patron of the church. Madame Brosseau was sixty-seven years of age and, if Father Augustin was any judge, not long for this world. She was trying to buy her way into heaven, and while Augustin doubted it would work, he could put the money to good use. He heard the noise again. It was a slithering sort of thing.
Curious and only a little frightened by the murder and the commissaire’s insistence that it was of demonic origin, Father Augustin turned into the alley. As he passed the corner of the building, the light was hidden as though a cloak were pulled over the moon. He looked up to see nothing but inky blackness, and then ahead to see a shape of shadows before him.
Pragmatic he might be, but Father Augustin was strong in his faith. He grabbed the cross he wore, held it before him, and started the ceremony of exorcism.
The laughter he heard was terrifying. It was cold, like ice cracking, but there was a malicious sweetness to it. The laughter slithered into words. The meaning seeped into his mind, though the language was ancient and evil beyond his imagining.
“I do not answer to your crucified mammal.”
Somehow, with the word mammal came the image and the smell of a small furry rodent and the impression that this thing saw no difference at all between the ancient rat and Christ.
“I was here when your kind walked on four legs. You are still nothing but food to me.”
There was more slithering and the darkness advanced upon Father Augustin. He started screaming then, and he screamed for quite a while.
But no one heard a thing.
Office of the Commissaire of the Grand Châtelet
February 5, 1372
“You have to do something,” Nicolas du Bosc insisted.
Pierre Dubois looked at the angle of the light across his work table. The sun would be setting soon and the body of Father Augustin had been discovered in the early morning. Word was all over Paris and people were panicking.
Apparently people were panicking all the way to the royal palace, hence the visit from a close companion and top adviser to King Charles V of France. Du Bosc’s official title was as one of the maîtres des requêtes ordinaires de l’hôtel du Roi—which was a medieval way of indicating that he was one of the king’s advisers who handled petitions from the common folk. In practice, his position was roughly equivalent—very, very roughly—to that of the White House Counsel of twenty-first century American presidents. He was, in essence, the king’s personal lawyer as well as his principal legal adviser.
“I don’t know what to do,” admitted Dubois. “Just as last time, no one heard a thing and the alley was just off a major thoroughfare. The alley was washed in blood, but that is not all. A doctor of medicine from the university examined the body and the father’s throat was raw from screaming. No one heard it. No one heard anything at all. This was not natural. It was not the act of a madman, or a man of any sort. Not because no man would do such a thing, but because no man could do such a thing. I suggested that we try something, but the church wouldn’t stand for it.”
“What did you have in mind, Commissaire?”
“There are ancient rites to call up a familiar, really an imp of knowledge, a being that teaches the caller about the workings of magic.” Pierre avoided the word demon carefully. “Those rites probably won’t work, but I can think of nothing else to try.”
Nicholas du Bosc took a deep breath. “I’ll look into the matter. Father Augustin was not a simple parish priest. He had the ear and friendship of half the nobles in Paris.”
La Petite Courtyard, University of Paris
February 8, 1372
Gabriel Delaflote laid out his summoning, using chalk blessed by Father Christos from Saint Dominic’s, mixed with holy water and goat’s milk. It was Gabriel’s own recipe, based on an amalgamation of bits and pieces from pagan times, but with a proper respect for Mother Church. He painted it onto the paving stones with horsehair brushes, paying little attention to the walled and gated courtyard he was in.
He had wanted to do this in his laboratory which was located in his room. But Bishop de Sarcenas insisted he had to observe and, given his corpulence, he wasn’t going to climb three flights of stairs to get to Gabriel’s rooms in the tower. Instead, Gabriel had to carry his tools and implements down to this windy courtyard. He finished the star and stood up to look it over and consider the ancients whose works this was based on.
Acreties had said “it should have one point longer as a stylized goat’s head” but Pompilius had said “it should be exactly even to better reflect Plato’s perfect forms.” Gabriel had gone with Plato instead of the goat, in deference to church sensibilities. He personally didn’t think it mattered, since both Acreties and Pompilius claimed to have raised demons of knowledge, or familiar spirits.
Not that Gabriel was convinced it would work anyway. He was an alchemist and scholar, not a wizard. Besides, church or no church, he had quietly done a few experiments over the years and nothing worked. He had the claims of the ancients and a collection of old wives’ tales, but no worthwhile results.
Gabriel wanted it to work. He wanted the world to have mysteries and magic that he could learn. But he no longer really believed it would.
He looked around the forty by sixty foot courtyard. There in the corner was Bertrand du Guesclin, “The Black Dog of Brocéliande.” He was the king’s man, the Constable of France, and perhaps the scariest man Gabriel had ever seen. Du Guesclin had long arms and was almost as broad as he was tall.
Gabriel suppressed a shudder and went back to his preparations. There were a set of five spirals to draw in the spaces between the points of the star, two circles within the pentagram at the center of the star, and a lot more.
Three more hours of meticulous painting and the star of containment was complete.
Gabriel stood in his position in a circle a yard from one point of the star. While the observers clustered at a safe distance, he started the invocation.
The Nether Reaches
No time applicable
Pucorlshrigin gnawed on a mammoth bone while contemplating the lines. Magic lines that flowed through the aether in ribbons of fire, air, water, and earth, carrying information. Pucorlshrigin’s form was wrong to human eyes, and not subtly wrong. It was like something Escher would have drawn while on LSD. The body shifted from grossly fat to emaciated and back again as Pucorlshrigin bit and chewed. Pucorlshrigin was as large as a brontosaurus and as small as a gnat, all at the same time, because physical structure was a function of concentration. And Pucorlshrigin was concerned, distracted, all aflutter over what was happening in the netherworld that was his home.
There was a great disturbance in the planes. Demons and dragons, monsters of all sorts, were disappearing. The demon lords were in an uproar as balances of power that had lasted longer than suns were thrown out of whack.
Pucorlshrigin nibbled again in the same spot that he had nibbled, with only occasional breaks, for the last eleven thousand years. As Pucorlshrigin chewed, the shard of flesh he had just consumed was reformed.
Pucorlshrigin checked another line of information and took another bite. The lines were, in this realm, almost physical. They weren’t data in the way a human might perceive, but feelings—a spiderweb of distortions. Pucorlshrigin hadn’t made significant progress in consuming the bone, for both Pucorlshrigin and the bone were immaterial and, in this place, eternal.
Pucorlshrigin felt the pull of an invocation and immediately started looking for loopholes. Pucorlshrigin was a puck, an imp in the pattern of Robin Goodfellow. It was his nature to seek loopholes. This was not the first time he had been called to the mortal world, but there was something different about this call. The call was both more clear and more powerful, as though the separation between the netherworld and the mortal world had been ripped away.
There! A big fat loophole.
The invoker had failed to put a vessel in the pentagram. Before, that failure would have been enough to prevent the invocation from working at all. Now, though Pucorlshrigin was still being called, the option of vessel was left to Pucorlshrigin. There were only moments to act as Pucorlshrigin was pulled into time and across the possibilities of past and future.
There was another good thing. This was a general call, not a call by name. No one, not even Pucorlshrigin, knew Pucorlshrigin’s complete descriptor. “Pucorlshrigin” was only an approximation. But the more precise the approximation, the greater the power of the call. And this call was so general that Pucorlshrigin should have been able to ignore it altogether.
Pucorlshrigin was being pulled into the mortal realms. Pucorlshrigin didn’t have a great grasp of geography but knew the direction of pull. Pucorlshrigin considered a mammoth as the vessel, but eleven thousand years of chewing on something that tastes like very, very old, very, very dry chicken left the idea of mammoths unappealing.
Pucorlshrigin looked for something else to reside in. If required to act as a familiar spirit, Pucorlshrigin wanted something more comfortable than a cat. A ring or a diamond brooch would be comfortable, if limited. Maybe a statue, though they took great will to animate.
Pucorlshrigin looked closer in time to the call and spotted something, something he had never imagined. And the something was close, no more than a thousand years of possibilities away from the pentagram, though it was moving away in probability even as Pucorlshrigin passed. The something had no vita as such, no personality to contend with or be constrained by. But it was capable of motion under its own power. It had sight, of a sort, and hearing. It consumed fuel and even had something that was sort of like a mind. A small but active, very quick mind.
In passing, Pucorlshrigin noted that the something was physically large, although not as large as the mammoth Pucorlshrigin had been gnawing on. But Pucorlshrigin didn’t examine it closely. There wasn’t time. It was in the right physical location. It would do.
Pucorlshrigin occupied it, and became it, as he passed through its time and possibility. Still drawn to the pentagram, Pucorlshrigin took its new body, the van.
Pucorlshrigin was in the computer control network of the van when he realized that the vehicle was already owned.
This was disaster!
There were rules left over from the Creation. One of them required that the owner of the vessel had the right to command the demon occupying the vessel. Surely the owner was left behind in that other place, in that possible future.
Pucorlshrigin looked out its cameras and cringed in his new body. The owner was inside it! Pucorlshrigin could see her through the dash cam. She was sitting right there in the automatically adjustable driver’s seat.
The van that was now Pucorlshrigin’s body also had several other mortals belted in.
Paris Street, about six and a half centuries later
Mrs. Amelia Grady glanced at the vid screen on the dash, and through it, at the students in the van. There were eight students and her son, Paul, who was playing with his video game.
Amelia looked back up as a sports car made a right turn in front of her. She slammed on the brakes.
Suddenly, the world changed.
There was a wall in front of her and a man between her and the wall.
She pushed harder on the brake pedal and jerked the wheel over, pointing the van away from the man. The man jumped back, avoiding becoming roadkill by millimeters. The van skidded, but stopped before it hit the stone wall that surrounded the courtyard.
What the hell is going on?
She looked back at the kids. They were her first priority. They were all belted in, but the sudden shift had pulled them all out of their self-absorption.
Lakshmi Rawal looked out the windows and screamed. All the kids were looking frightened, and Lakshmi’s scream set off a round of panicked demands that were too disjointed to follow.
“Quiet!” yelled Amelia, and that brought a moment of silence. “The van is stopped,” Amelia continued as calmly as she could manage. She couldn’t panic. She had the kids to look after. “We didn’t run over anyone and we will figure out what happened and go home. In the meantime, I need you all to keep calm and not go into hysterics.”
∞ ∞ ∞
Wilber Hyde-Davis III was reading a synopsis of Tamer the Lame, the new play they were going to see. He had his hearing aid turned down, so didn’t know anything was wrong till the braking and swerving almost pulled him from his seat. It would have if he hadn’t been belted in. He looked up, and in a move that had long since become reflex, reached behind his ear to turn up the external unit for his cochlear implant. He got it turned up just in time to hear Mrs. Grady shout “Quiet!”
Paul, Mrs. Grady’s eight-year-old, was looking shocked and frightened. He pointed out the window.
Wilber’s eyes followed the finger and saw a bunch of people dressed in clothes from the Middle Ages. The men were wearing swords and armor. At least, some of them were. There was a priest, no, a bishop. He was wearing a miter. There were other men wearing scholarly robes. The man who caught Wilber’s eye was short, but no shorter than the rest of them. What made him seem shorter was how wide he was. He was wearing chainmail armor, but no helmet. He had short brown hair and a face that looked like the unfortunate love child of Peter Lorre and Mussolini. In spite of which, there was a presence to that face.
The short man spoke in what was almost French, and some of the soldiers cautiously approached the van.
The van spoke in the same not quite French, sharply, in a voice that shifted register and tonality like an orchestra tuning up.
“What did you say?” Mrs. Grady asked.
The van answered on its internal speakers. “I told them to stay back. They have no right to touch me.”
“The automated system on this heap couldn’t do that,” Annabelle Cooper-Smith declared. Annabelle had taken apart her father’s Ferrari when she was fourteen. She had done it under the tutelage of her father’s mechanic, and they had put it back together a little better than new. She knew cars, trucks, anything with an engine. She was also, at her own insistence, the main mechanic for the “Heap,” as she called it.
Wilber’s hyphenated last name derived from English upper-class tradition, mostly due to concerns over inheritance. His family was very wealthy and belonged to the idle rich—which explained his presence in the student body of the American School in Paris. After his parents got divorced, three years earlier, Wilber’s mother had relocated from London to Paris simply because she liked the capital of France more than she did the capital of her own native land.
Annabelle’s hyphenated last name, on the other hand, derived from her mother’s feminist attitudes. She was as American as the proverbial apple pie, and if her family was even richer than Wilber’s she made up for it by a well-nigh fanatical devotion to all things automotive.
All of the teenagers in the van were students at the American School in Paris, and all of them came from families which were at least very well-to-do—which was pretty much a prerequisite for sending their children to the ASP. The private school charged a small fortune in the way of tuition and tended to view the term “scholarship” as a synonym for “hen’s teeth.”
Five of the eight students were American, one was English, one was French and one was from India. That was a fairly accurate reflection of the composition of the ASP’s student body.
Their teacher, Amelia Grady, was also American. But she came from a modestly middle-class family in Indiana—AKA “flyover country” to the sort of people who sent their kids to the school she taught in. She’d wound up in Paris due to the vagaries and complexities of her husband’s job prospects, and she landed herself a position as the ASP’s drama teacher due to her possession of several advanced degrees including a Master of Fine Arts. She’d chosen to do so less for the salary than for the benefit that her son Paul could attend the school without she and her husband having to pay the exorbitant tuition.
The van made a noise that sounded remarkably like a sniff of disdain. Somehow, it was getting more verbal subtlety out of the speakers than Annabelle would have thought possible.
Mrs. Grady went into teacher mode. “Well?”
With a clear pout in its tone, the van answered. “I can now!”
“Why can you now?” Mrs. Grady knew when a kid was misbehaving.
“I have been occupied by a… spirit of sorts,” the van admitted.
“Cool!” said Paul, which pretty much summed up Wilber’s reaction as well. “What’s your name?”
“I’m not required to answer that!” the van said quickly, then spoke again using its outside speakers in that not quite French that was just a bit too weird for Wilber to understand. It was archaic, he could tell that much.
Paul said, “We have to call you something.”
There was a moment’s hesitation. Then: “You can call me Pucorl. That’ll do.”
That’ll do for what—or for how long? Annabelle wondered.
“What are they saying out there?” Mrs. Grady asked.
“They are wondering what to do since their summoning spell didn’t work the way they wanted. They are pretty irate and very frightened.”
“Well, tell them who we are and what happened. Try to calm them down.”
∞ ∞ ∞
Pucorlshrigin was very much in a state of shock from the strength of the call. Pucorlshrigin was more “in” the mortal realm than he had ever been before, and from a call that was so imprecise that it should not have worked at all. So he was reacting on instinct and his instinct was to be a puck, a perverse but sometimes friendly imp who might do a mortal’s work or lose the mortal in the woods. That was what had brought about the use of “Pucorl” as his name. The less of your name others knew, the more freedom you had and the less risk you took. The rest had poured out while Pucorlshrigin was trying to figure out why the call had worked. Now he was ordered by the owner of his new vessel to explain and calm. Well, he would, since he had no choice. But he would do it as a puck.
∞ ∞ ∞
Suddenly the monster with the people inside, in tones of such horrible anguish that Gabriel could not help but shudder, wailed “I am not a monster! I am a van!” Then, in a calmer voice, it explained. “A van is a type of powered cart or wagon that will be built in one of the many possible futures of this world. One that is now increasingly unlikely. The people inside me are not monsters either. They are ordinary people, though of good families. Specifically, they are a school group, eight students and their teacher, with her son.”
Bertrand du Guesclin, the Constable of France, shouted “Hold!” The guards, all the guards, stopped their approach. Then he looked at the van and laughed out loud. “I find a demon with a sense of humor interesting.”
Gabriel looked at the Constable of France in confusion, trying to figure out how du Guesclin could think the thing had a sense of humor. He ran over what the van had said and how it said it. The pathos of that first wailed complaint, followed by the calm and smooth delivery of the rest . . . and suddenly he had it. That first phrase was an act, a performance, and overdone, like the dialog from a play. He looked back at the king’s first adviser, a man who all reports agreed was illiterate, and wondered how he could have been the first to see it.
The van went on to describe the school group in detail. “Four girls, four boys, all in their teens. A younger boy and his mother, and—”
The provost of the university interrupted. “But what are you doing here?”
“I don’t answer to you.” The voice stopped for a moment, then continued. “It was Doctor Delaflote who summoned me.”
∞ ∞ ∞
The provost was looking daggers at Gabriel Delaflote, so he said, “Answer the question.”
“You botched the spell to summon me.”
“What did I get wrong?”
There was a longish pause, then the van said, “There are things I may not tell you. Rules laid down by the creator of heaven and earth, rules that even the fallen must abide by. I can say that you left out crucial parts of the spell, for it is clear that you were working from fragments.”
Gabriel got the distinct impression that there was something not quite right about the demon’s explanation, but he didn’t know what. What was clear was that the specifics of the missing piece of the spell were not going to be immediately forthcoming.
Commissaire Pierre Dubois interrupted before he could ask for an explanation. “Do you know who or what is committing these murders?”
“No, but you are correct that the murderer is not human.”
“Can you help us solve the murders?” the commissaire asked, sounding a little desperate to Gabriel.
“Perhaps,” the van said. “In the possibility that the van and the class comes from, they know a great deal more about solving crimes than you do. In fact, they know a great deal more about most things than you do.”
Gabriel wondered what the van meant by saying the van came from a “possibility,” but that question was wiped from his mind as the tone registered. The van’s tone of condescension was shocking, especially when addressed to a commissaire. Gabriel managed to hide his smirk, but the commissaire surprised him.
“I hope they do, demon van. I truly hope they do.”
“I’m not a demon, just a… spirit of sorts,” Pucorlshrigin insisted. “Who ever heard of a demon with such a short name as mine? I’m a… well, it’s true I usually live in the demonic universe. But I’m not one of them.”
He had to be careful here. What humans understood by the term demon was quite different from what demons themselves thought of the matter. So he wasn’t exactly lying, because by the human concept of “demon” he really wasn’t one. He was just an innocent puck trying to make his way in a cruel and indifferent universe—several universes, actually—not the sort of slavering monster that humans had in mind when they thought of a demon.
∞ ∞ ∞
The van had been providing the students, at Mrs. Grady’s request, a running translation of its discussion with the locals. It explained its cooperation as an apology of sorts. “I didn’t know the van was loaded.” The van snickered and so did Paul, then the van continued. “And there wasn’t time to check. I needed a home, a vessel, right then. It’s not your fault you got dragged along.”
“Well, take us back,” said Jennifer Fairbanks, more than a little desperately.
“I’m sorry. I can’t do that,” Pucorl said. “I was summoned by Doctor Gabriel Delaflote in order to aid in the investigation of a series of gruesome murders that they believe are the work of a demon. I can’t leave until that is done.”
∞ ∞ ∞
From the moment Pucorl realized that the van had an owner and that the owner was present, he started blending truth with lies to hide one overwhelming fact. He was under the control of whoever owned his vessel.
Amelia Grady owned his vessel.
He could not lie to her, but he could lie to anyone else who asked him a question. He could lie in her presence, even, and so give her false answers. He could give her true but misleading answers as long as they actually did answer her question. What he couldn’t do—literally could not, because he was built that way—was disobey a direct order or tell her a direct lie.
His only hope of handling the situation was to leave her under the impression that he was being just as cooperative as he could, so that she didn’t give him direct orders. That way, when she told him to do something and he did it, it would just seem that he was being cooperative. It wasn’t a good solution, and he wasn’t all that sure he could keep it up for long enough to do him much good, but he felt he had to try.
So he did what Amelia asked and explained to others that he was restricted by the summoning spell. Which he wasn’t, not since the pentagram had been burst asunder in the moment of their arrival.
Besides, it was a fun game and he really liked the van. Normally, if summoned, he would be either very limited by the inanimate nature of the container or in a constant struggle with the personality of the animal he was housed in. It was no fun to have your host’s instincts having you jump for a rat or a squirrel.
He worked on his balancing act all the rest of the day while quarters for the guests of the university were found and while the commissaire briefed them on the murders and was told, in turn, about forensic science. It helped Pucorl that twenty-first century French was quite different from the language of Paris in this time. What would eventually become French was passing from what scholars of a later time would call Old French. In the northern region where Paris was located, the dialect in current use was known as the Langue d’oïl.
Office of the Provost
February 9, 1372
Bertrand du Guesclin walked to the chair of the provost of the university of Paris and sat. He had sent a runner to inform the king of what had happened and, for the moment at least, had left instructions that the “guests” should be treated with respect.
The parties involved were babbling like chickens. The church, in the person of Bishop de Sarcenas, was busy demanding that they be burned at the stake. And there was a part of Bertrand that wanted to let him do just that. But Bertrand hadn’t let fear rule him since he was six, and he wasn’t going to start now. He looked around the room then said, “No!”
He didn’t shout, not exactly, but Bertrand was used to making himself heard in the middle of a battle. The babble quieted, and he continued. “Did you see the structure of that thing? The front glass? Better than the best glass I have ever seen. The metal, the wheels, the black around the rims, the . . .” He waved a hand. “The whole of it. Any part of that device must be considered the work of a master, if not a miracle. And the whole, taken together, is beyond impossible. The people in the—” Bertrand stopped, trying to recall the word that demon had used to describe the conveyance. Ah, yes. “—the van were ordinary people, if extraordinarily comely. For now, until I have contrary evidence, I will believe this Pucorl in the van about what it is and where its form came from. That makes the people both innocent and potentially exceedingly valuable.” He looked at Bishop de Sarcenas until the man wilted. It didn’t take long.
Then he turned to the alchemist. What was his name? Gabriel Delaflote. “Doctor Delaflote, you go have a talk with the van and find out what you can. Commissaire Dubois, I know this is about your murders, but for the moment you’re going to have to be patient. No extreme measures until the king or I tell you different. These people and the van are to be treated as gently as new babes.”
He looked around the room again, and seeing he had basic understanding among them, stood. “I need to go have a talk with the king.”
He also needed to get a message to his wife. Tiphaine was much better educated than he was. She understood astrology and divination, even.
The Stranger’s Rooms
Three hours later
“What’s going on?” Liane Boucher asked. “This makes no sense.”
Paul rolled his eyes and Annabelle wanted to do the same. Not that Liane didn’t have a point. Because this did make no sense at all. Demons were not real. They didn’t pick up vans from the twenty-first century and dump them in the fourteenth. They didn’t chat about demonic politics and translate between Langue d’oïl and twenty-first-century French and English.
Besides, if such a thing were to happen, the locals wouldn’t politely offer the occupants of the van rooms, food, and make oath before God to protect them from harm.
The primitives from the middle ages—okay, the late middle ages, but still the middle ages—wouldn’t show them to what was, for the time, a very nice hall. Apparently a dormitory. It had a dozen cots with bags of hay for mattresses, and windows that were shuttered against the cold, wet weather. She looked around the hall, at the woolen tapestries that hung on the walls, protecting the room from the cold stone behind. She looked at the carpets that were on the stone floor for the same purpose. The arched ceiling and the large fireplace in the north wall that held a warm fire. The lamps on the walls that provided a little light.
Annabelle found herself thankful that it had been a cold, wet day in December when this happened to them. At least everyone had a warm coat. The bread was dense and grainy, the soup was cabbage, with the bare acquaintance of a goat.
And the place stank mildly of chamber pots. The odor wasn’t overwhelming, but it was there in the background.
Still, for all of that, her history classes told her that these were good quarters. What a group of noble students would expect, not what a bunch of peasants would see. And certainly not what a bunch of witches disgorged by a demon should expect.
Liane was right. It didn’t make sense. None of it made sense.
But Paul was right too, because Liane had been saying that every five minutes since they arrived. Her repetition of the obvious was getting more than a bit old.
Liane, although French, wasn’t having any more luck being understood than the American students were. Jennifer was spending most of her time crying. Roger was marching back and forth near the door, fists clenching and unclenching as he moved. Lakshmi was just sitting on her cot, not eating, not looking around. Just sitting there, as though she couldn’t process what had happened.
Annabelle looked at Mrs. Grady and fumed. She needed to be out in the courtyard, talking to the demon and figuring out how it was working with the van. But Mrs. Grady insisted they all stay together “for safety.” Like they were any safer here than in the courtyard. Besides, so far the guards had been polite.
Wilber had turned off his hearing aid. He had a cochlear implant and only limited batteries for the external unit. He was lying on his cot, looking at the ceiling and not saying anything. Didn’t Mrs. Grady understand they were under a time limit? All their electronics were going to run down and the van was going to run out of gas. They needed to figure stuff out now, not wait till these middle ages gangsters got around to them.
Bill had dug into his backpack and pulled a pair of red plastic dice out of it. He was now trying to interest the guards in a game of craps. But at least he was doing something. Jeff was just lying on his cot, asleep. He probably didn’t understand what was going on, but not understanding what was going on was not unusual for Jeff, so he was less bothered by it than the others.
Annabelle got up. She would try again to talk some sense into Mrs. Grady. Annabelle knew she wasn’t being fair, but she was scared. Honestly, scared half out of her mind, and she needed to be doing something before she came apart at the seams.
“Okay, Annabelle,” Mrs. Grady said before she even got there. “If you can make the guards understand and it’s okay with them, it’s okay with me. But I want you back here before dark.”
Annabelle headed for the door to the courtyard.
He had form. He had shape and substance through his vessel.
He didn’t know how his new form worked. He didn’t know, not clearly, that he was thinking with electrical fields and current flows. A microprocessor is small, but not nearly so small as a neuron. And there aren’t nearly so many neurons on a chip as there are in even a mouse’s brain. The van didn’t have a twenty-first century supercomputer.
On the other hand, a demon is still a demon. It can function even if it’s placed in a pewter statue of a mouse. The van was a whole lot better and more functional than a statue. Pucorl was using the “brain” of the van to help his thinking, and that brain gave his thoughts a clarity and an edge of precision that he never could have managed without it. Besides, a demon like Pucorl was strongly influenced by the form he occupied and the form he was in was a twenty-first-century van that informed Pucorl’s understanding of the world and his vocabulary.
The van’s electronic functions were designed to be voice-activated. The driver could make calls or activate the cameras by voice. The magic infused the speaker as well as the speech centers, software, and firmware on his chips. Pucorl could talk with a facility and control that even a supercomputer couldn’t match, because part of what was happening was magic.
The same was true of the fly-by-wire circuitry that would have let the van parallel park on its own on a Paris street before Pucorl had joined with it. Now that circuitry, in combination with Pucorl’s demon nature, meant that the van could drive itself.
If there was anywhere to drive.
He was still stuck in the courtyard and the locals weren’t in any hurry to take down the walls and let him out. So, for now, all he could do was talk.
He had spent the last several hours talking to Gabriel Delaflote about the nature of magic, and was finding it rather difficult to keep his story straight. The truth was that Pucorl was not a demon lord. He wasn’t one of the beings that the ancients had called gods. He was an imp and a trickster, a clerk of sorts, a very minor figure in the demonic power structure.
This vessel helped a lot, but he didn’t understand how it helped. Part of that was because no one had yet asked him the right questions.
Pucorl was of a class of demons who were designed to serve as sources of information. Asking them a question let them find the answer, if the answer was within their range. If someone would ask him how the van affected him, he would know. But he wouldn’t until he was asked.
Though Pucorl didn’t realize it, that was why he had spent eleven thousand years chewing on the same spot on the same mammoth bone. No one had asked him why that spot or suggested another. Without that external stimulus, Pucorl hadn’t thought to change what he was doing or how.
He welcomed the arrival of Annabelle Cooper-Smith with considerable relief. That relief was turned into out-and-out joy when the first question she asked was, “How are your batteries?”
In that instant, Pucorl understood that he had two batteries. One was located in his engine compartment, the other, center body, left side. And while they were interconnected and one could back up the other, they performed different functions. The one in his engine compartment ran the starter motor, the external lights, the external speakers that he used when someone pushed the horn button, the external cameras, the windshield wipers, and so on. The other operated the internal cameras, the GPS, the entertainment center, and his radio and phone.
He knew as well that both were gradually losing charge, and because he was a demon he knew how to charge the batteries. Until that moment it hadn’t occurred to him that they might need charging. A moment’s thought and the use of a tiny fraction of his essence, and the batteries were fully charged.
“My batteries are fully charged and will stay charged,” Pucorl said smugly.
“Cool. What about gas? Diesel, that is.”
And again the question brought the answer. The answer was partly Annabelle’s knowledge of how his vessel was supposed to work and partly the readings that told him. What he knew was that he had seven gallons of diesel and he couldn’t fill the tank from his essence. He couldn’t will it filled. He would never, as long as he occupied the vessel, run out of power. But he would run out of fuel, and once that happened he wouldn’t be able to move. He knew better than the sensor how much fuel he had because, like the circuitry, the sensor’s function was augmented by his magic. He knew to the milliliter how much fuel he had.
“I only have a quarter tank,” he said. “And I can’t make more.”
“Why can you make electricity and not diesel?” Annabelle asked, and the question brought the answer, if not understanding of the answer.
“If I were in a jewel, the jewel would glow with my presence as long as I was in the jewel. But if I were in a cat, the cat would still need to be fed.”
“What does that mean?” Annabelle asked.
“Diesel is my food.”
“I got that part,” Annabelle said. “It was the part about making the jewel glow—” She stopped speaking for a moment, then continued. “Not even that. It’s that if you can do the one, you ought to be able to do the other. There are electric cars, after all.”
“I don’t truly understand myself,” Pucorl half admitted, half lied. Her question had given him a part of the answer. It is in the nature of a jewel to shine. Pucorl could expand that nature. But it is not in the nature of a cat to live without food. He could make the jewel shine even when there was no light to reflect, but he couldn’t make the cat live without food. It had to do with the inherent nature of things. A battery was part of a piece of electronic equipment. It was meant to be charged and provide power. An engine took fuel and used it up.
Annabelle went to the back of the van and grabbed the back door handles.
“Hey,” said Pucorl, “watch the hands.”
“You can feel that?”
“Of course,” Pucorl said. He hadn’t actually objected when her hand touched his door handle, but wanted to make the point that he was the van now. It wasn’t some inanimate object.
“What do you mean, how? How do you know when someone touches you?”
“I have nerves.”
“That’s a good point. I hadn’t thought about it.” Pucorl did think about it. When he was called, he occupied whatever vessel was available, and he had to adapt to that vessel. If he was called to a living creature, he integrated with it, taking on its physical characteristics, gender, and to an extent its personality. If he was called to a statue, he took on its form, not that he was the sort of powerful demon who could actually animate a statue. All he could do was talk through its mouth. But now, in the van, it was like both things were happening at once.
“Well?” Annabelle asked.
Pucorl tried to decide how much to tell her. “I don’t know,” he said. “But I can feel your hand on my door handle.”
Annabelle shrugged, and opened the door. She lifted the floor panel to expose the storage area.
Pucorl felt that too.
She pulled out the scanner. Pucorl felt it being removed, like you might feel a glove removed or keys come out of your pocket. He looked at it with his camera. It was a yellow plastic device with a liquid crystal display and buttons. It also had a plug that fit under the dash to let it interface with the van’s onboard diagnostics.
“What are you planning to do with that?” Pucorl asked.
“I’m planning to check your systems.”
Pucorl locked his doors. “I’m not that kind of van!” Then he laughed and unlocked them, and noted that Annabelle was grinning at him.
Royal Palace, Hôtel Saint-Pol
Even here in the king’s private chambers, Bertrand bowed deeply as he entered. The king was fifteen years his junior, and Bertrand had known him since the king was a lad and Bertrand was a hotheaded young fool. But Charles V of France was his liege lord, much smarter than Bertrand, and a better lord than Bertrand or France deserved.
“Oh, stop that,” King Charles said, and waved him to a chair. The room was as much a library as an office, with oak bookshelves inlaid with gold and silver and actual bound books. The new palace, the Hôtel Saint-Pol, was barely a decade old. Charles V had dedicated a lot of money and effort into making it luxurious as well as functional.
“Would you truly want me to, Sire?” Bertrand asked, moving to the chair.
“No, probably not,” the king admitted, “but it does get tiresome sometimes. Tell me of the summoning. Did it actually work?”
“In a manner of speaking, Sire. Though not in the manner Delaflote expected. On the other hand, I think the way it worked out might be better for us than if he had gotten the imp in the form of a bird or a cat that he was expecting. What we got was a cart full of people from the future. A future where they can make sheets of glass as long as a man is tall, and as clear as a summer’s day. Where they can make carts out of steel. Carts that can move themselves without the need of horses or oxen to draw them. I spoke a little to the demon and to the teacher before leaving orders and coming here. I think the people in the van will be of . . .”
“You left out what happened, Bertrand,” the king interrupted. “Now, go back to the beginning and tell me what happened.”
Bertrand did. It took a while. While he was talking, other members of the king’s privy council came in and interrupted. Then things had to be repeated.
They talked through the night and came only to tentative conclusions. First, they would, for now, leave the strangers and their demon to work with the commissaire of police to investigate the murders, but they would be watched with care.
“Duke Philip is in Burgundy at the moment, but his spies will tell him about this within days. He will return to Paris, looking for an advantage. So will my other brothers,” King Charles said.
“We can’t afford open war with your brothers, Your Majesty,” Bertrand said. “Not when we’re in the middle of the war with England.”
Nicolas du Bosc asked, “You said they were from the future. Doesn’t that mean they know our present as their past?”
“I would assume so,” Bertrand said.
“I think, Your Majesty, I should go and have a chat with these people and see what their histories say of your brothers.”
King Charles nodded. “You do that, Nicolas. But also ask them if they record the presence of a van filled with people from the future. It would seem to me that they would have read of such a thing had it happened.”
Bertrand tried not to let his confusion show. He followed what the king was saying well enough. It was the back and forth of they must know and they can’t know, because if they knew, they would have avoided that spot on that day, and on and on, back and forth, that caused his confusion.
An Inn in Paris
Duke Philip sipped wine as Robert Fabre watched cautiously. You had to be careful when delivering bad news to Philip the Bold. What Robert didn’t know was whether Duke Philip would consider this bad news.
“So they raised a demon, did they?” Duke Philip said. “My brother needs to learn to control his petite gens better.” But there was a smile on the duke’s face. “Contact Cardinal de Dormans. We are going to point out to the church that my brother is dealing with demonic forces.”
Robert Fabre nodded. He knew that Duke Philip had his own dealings with the mystical creatures that had started appearing a few weeks ago. That was why the duke was in Paris. He had been told by a dame blanche of the demon in Paris after dallying with her for a night. He came here to contact the demon lord and make a deal. Philip the Bold was convinced that he should be the king of France. He was his father’s favorite, after all, and he was positive that his cautious bookkeeper brother who was on the throne of France at the moment would lead the kingdom to ruin by his parsimonious ways. Robert knew all this because he had been at the rites that invoked Duke Philip’s creature.
“For that matter, send word to Pope Gregory in Avignon.” Philip snorted a laugh. “I doubt Gregory can do more than Father Augustine could.”
Robert hid a shudder.
Strangers’ Quarters, University of Paris
February 10, 1372
Wilber turned up his mic to listen to Bill Howe as he described what he had seen in the Rue Paul.
“I took one look at the alley and knew we weren’t going to find much. The city guard—they call it the Grand Châtelet—are doing their best, but they don’t know crap about preserving crime scenes. Someone had hosed down the place. Well, bucketed down the place, these people not having hoses, any more than they have fingerprint kits. But the alley was probably cleaner than it had been in the last ten years and there was an old woman going over the walls with a rag soaked in lye soap.
“I told them that the first rule of crime scene investigation is to preserve the crime scene, but I’m not sure how much of it they got. I said it in French, but got nothing back except blank looks. So I pulled out my slate computer and finger wrote it. That got me some warding signs, but that assistant to the commissaire looked at it and seemed to get it.” Bill shrugged. “Maybe. He wrote something on a wall with chalk. Wouldn’t touch my computer. The note read ‘You think we should just wait for the next murder?’
“I shrugged and wrote back that we weren’t even here when that murder happened. Then he brought me back here. I don’t know . . . maybe if we can talk to that alchemist guy, he can fix us up with fingerprint powder. Maybe even PH test strips.”
Bill had volunteered for this because his dad was a lawyer, a high-end criminal attorney. Bill knew more about evidence than anyone in their group, with the possible exception of eight-year-old Paul, whose dad was a French police inspector. But there was no way that Mrs. Grady was letting her eight-year-old go visit a bloody crime scene.
Wilber turned his implant back down when Bill was finished. They had to solve the murders to get back. That was the only reason Mrs. Grady let Bill go.
The Grand Châtelet
The man who six centuries later would have been known as a cop or police officer bowed to the commissaire as he entered the office.
Pierre lifted an eyebrow. “Well, Jacques, what was it like working with a demon-brought stranger?”
“He’s a youngster, Commissaire, and I don’t doubt the claim that they are of good families. I would guess that one’s papa is a baron, at least. The problem was the language. I couldn’t understand a quarter of what he said, even when he wrote it out on that magic pad of his.”
“According to the imp of knowledge, it’s not a magic pad, but a tool. More complicated than pen and paper, but not different in kind.” Pierre stood and walked across his office to a small table that held a jar of wine. He lifted the jar and Jacques licked his lips, but shook his head. Pierre turned back to the table and poured himself wine.
“If you believe the demon in the cart,” said Jacques. In his tone of voice, Pierre heard doubt and distrust to match his own. “The ‘van,’ as they call it.”
“We must teach them proper French as quickly as we can,” Pierre said, turning back with wine in hand. “We need to be able to check the claims of the haunted van.”
“Weeks at the least, Commissaire, and I don’t think we have weeks before the monster strikes again.”
February 10, 1372
Wilber sat on the stone bench and used his phone to send Annabelle a text. Their phones were synced just like they were before the demon kidnapped them. He wasn’t sure how much the demon haunting the van could hear, but he didn’t think Pucorl would be able to intercept a text between his phone and Annabelle’s. He wasn’t entirely sure of that, so what he texted was “I think he’s a Joanie.” Joanie was a girl at the school who was a pathological liar. She lied even when the truth would keep her out of trouble.
Part of his feeling was just because Wilber was good at interpreting phrasing and catching inconsistencies. Part of it was the fact that he was thinking of the demon as a demon, even if it had tried to claim it wasn’t. Demons were fallen angels, angels who had followed the devil into darkness in defiance of God. Wilber didn’t believe in God. At least, he hadn’t three days ago in the twenty-first century. Now he wasn’t so sure.
Annabelle texted back. “Puc???”
Wilber sent “T” for true.
That was harder to explain. Partly it was some of the stuff that the French doctor guy had said. It had been in Langue d’oïl and hard to follow, but everything had been hard to follow for Wilber his whole life. He had a cochlear implant, which helped, and he had years of practice guessing meaning from partial information, expression, lip reading, and body language. The doctor guy had been confused, and it wasn’t just that the van arrived instead of a cat or whatever he was expecting.
“Don’t know. Something off.”
“You know,” Annabelle said aloud, “I’ve never worked on a car that could tell me what it wanted before. I mean like, does it want a new video system or does it want its shocks adjusted.”
“What do you think it wants?” Wilber asked, confused by the sudden change. He looked at Annabelle and her posture was careful. This was a ploy of some sort, he was almost sure of it.
Annabelle shrugged. “What do you want, van?”
∞ ∞ ∞
That was a very interesting question, and not one that Pucorl was expecting. Pucorl had been asked all manner of questions when it had been summoned in the past, but not that one. Every time he had been called upon by a mortal, the assumption had always been that what he wanted was to be released so that he could rampage here in the mortal realm or return to the netherworld, whether the summoner thought of the netherworld as hel, hell, hades, underhill, the dream time, yomi, diyu, bashnobe, or any of the myriad of other spirit realms.
Pucorl had never considered the possibility of upgrades. Upgrades were a greater advantage to a being of his sort than they would be for a mortal. For demonkind, character followed function. A demon placed in a sword could make the sword strike true or, if placed as a curse, make the sword slip at the crucial moment. A demon put in a horn could make that horn play rousing or terrifying music, but couldn’t make it into a sword that would cut. Likewise, a demon placed in a cat would be fairly independent, while one placed in a dog would tend to be loyal. Pucorl had spent six millennia as a stone ax before recorded history. It had been incredibly boring.
While Pucorl was considering the new thought of upgrades, Annabelle was apparently doing the same, because she said, “Even when they open up the wall to let you out, you’re too big for a lot of Paris streets. And if we leave Paris, there aren’t any good roads.”
“The van is four-wheel drive,” Wilber said.
“That’ll help,” Annabelle said, “but not enough. I’m afraid Pucorl here is going to be limited to really good roads unless we can make some upgrades.”
Suddenly Pucorl felt his glorious new body was inadequate. “A cat or a dog can lift its feet,” he complained. “Why can’t I?”
“Because in spite of the fact that you have four-wheel drive, you weren’t really designed for off road. In the future, there will be good roads all over the place. The best roads around here are narrow dirt paths by our home’s standards.”
Pucorl could hear the pain in Annabelle’s voice, even though she was trying to hide it. He felt bad about that. The function of this van was to take its passengers where they wanted to go in comfort, and Annabelle clearly wanted to go home. He almost blurted out that he was sorry he couldn’t take them home, but he held his speaker.
Pucorl didn’t trust mortals. Of course, he mostly didn’t trust immortals either. Keeping as much back as he was allowed was a habit after all this time. Instead he asked, “Could you upgrade my suspension?”
“Maybe,” Annabelle said, even as Wilber was shaking his head. The boy stopped shaking his head and looked at the girl as she continued. “It depends on how your connection with the physical van works. If I knew that I might be able to figure out a way to protect your tires, or even let you lift your wheels.”
Pucorl was suspicious, but he knew that Annabelle was the one who took care of the van. Vans don’t have memory, but Pucorl was a demon, a creature of magic, and magic worked for him in ways he didn’t understand. He remembered her hands on his engine, changing his oil, and greasing his differential. Yes, Annabelle took care of him. Who knew what she might be able to do? He told her how it worked. She and Wilber asked questions.
In the course of the conversation, the basic effect of enchanting an item or cursing an item—both of which were accomplished by summoning a demon into the item—were explained.
“Maybe,” Wilber observed, “those tribal chieftains with the gold inlaid wooden keyboards and carved wooden shotguns with wooden bullets had a point. Or at least were acting on old stories that at some point in the past were accurate.” He looked at Pucorl. “If we were to have made up an electric arc furnace and summoned a demon to occupy it, would it work to make good steel?”
“I’m not sure,” Pucorl said. “I understand magic, but not electric arc furnaces. The power of similarity might apply, like it was a voodoo doll of an electric arc furnace. But that might just mean that chopping it up would make a real one break.”
“This is going to take some experimentation,” Annabelle said. “We will need to summon some demons to see what works. What do we need to do that?”
Pucorl forgot that he had said he wasn’t allowed to say and told her how to do it. Gabriel Delaflote had gotten most of it right, but he hadn’t known that the container needed to be placed in the center of the pentagram.
It was while they were discussing the minutiae of demon summoning that Bill arrived. “I’ll offer up my iPod if you can find a demon who speaks Langue d’oïl.”
“Your phone would be better, especially if you want to be able to answer them,” said Wilber.
“Maybe, but it won’t work to call you guys without a cell tower,” Bill insisted with all the certainty of the partially informed.
Wilber rolled his eyes. That wasn’t true, but the problem was how to explain the technicalities of the various ways electronic devices communicated with each other to Bill without pissing him off.
Annabelle solved it. “It’s LTE Direct protocol. All the phones and the van have it. It lets phones talk directly to each other using the same radio frequencies that cell towers have. The van, ah, Pucorl, has it as part of its onboard phone. They also have Bluetooth and Wifi for talking with other devices. That’s how your phone can act as a mobile hotspot for your computer.”
“So your phone will work to let you call us once we get it enchanted.”
“Hey, wait a minute,” Pucorl said. This was all going too fast. He wasn’t used to dealing with people of the twenty-first century, who expected to be able to look anything up on the internet in an instant.
“If we are going to figure out a way of upgrading your suspension so that we can let you shift your wheels,” Annabelle said, “we are going to have to do some experimenting. And if Bill is willing to sacrifice his iPod, I think it’s a good idea.”
“No, Pucorl is right,” Wilber said. “We have forgotten something important.”
“What?” Annabelle asked.
“What if the demons don’t want to come?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, did Pucorl want to be pulled here?”
“No,” Pucorl said. “But I’m here now and I want my upgrades.”
“So the spell you gave us will pull in a demon, willing or not?”
“Why should we care?” Bill asked.
“Look, I’ve been shoved into my locker too many times to want to be a party to doing it to someone else. Pucorl, is there a way that we can cast the spell so that only a demon who is willing will get called?”
Pucorl stopped and thought. There were, in fact, variations that did just that. But it was exceedingly rare that they would ever be used, save with a mortal who was trying to call a demon lord or a demigod. Either that, or it could be some hedge witch who didn’t know the protections. “I have told you how to be the master of demons, and you would be a supplicant instead?”
“No. I just want a demon who will help us because it wants to, not because we are forcing it.”
“It doesn’t mean we can’t have restrictions on it, so it doesn’t go crazy,” Annabelle said.
“Think about it, Bill. Do you want a demon in your iPod who is trying to escape all the time? Or one that wants to help?” Wilber waved his arms.
“Why would they want to help?” Bill asked. “No, I mean it. Pucorl, why would a demon willingly come and live in my iPod to help me listen to this freaking ancient-ass French?”
Pucorl considered continuing to argue that he wasn’t really a demon, but decided that was probably a hopeless task. So he just addressed the question itself. “Because eternity is boring, and this is something to do. Also, your iPod is like the van?”
Bill reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out the small digital music player. It was a top of the line product, and though it didn’t have as much memory or processing power as the array of chips in Pucorl, it had a lot. It also had games that would keep a demon occupied and entertained for centuries.
Pucorl examined it with his cameras and with magic. Yes, there were any number of demons who would be quite happy to move from the netherworld to live for a few centuries in the iPod and serve its owner. “If you put that in the pentagram as bait, you will catch a demon. And a willing one at that.”
All of a sudden Pucorl was much more pleased with his situation. Yes, he had been dragged from his hole in the netherworld, but he was here now, with cameras and wheels and GPS. “Wait a minute. My GPS system isn’t getting any signal.”
“No satellites in the fourteenth century,” Wilber said. “Nothing we can do about that. Not unless you can launch a satellite. What I want to know now is, can you talk to your demon friends and tell them what we are offering?”
Pucorl didn’t say that he didn’t have any demon friends. Demons were generally too busy looking out for themselves to have friends. But Wilber didn’t need to know that. Instead Pucorl said, “If you put the iPod in the pentagram, they will know what it is and what it can do.”
“I got that,” Wilber said, standing up and starting to pace. “What I was asking was if you could talk to others like you back where you come from. If maybe you had a buddy or something who you might like to let know about this, so he can be in place when we light up the spell.”
Pucorl thought about it, and realized that he really didn’t have anyone like that. It made him rather sad.
“You do realize we are going to have to tell Delaflote about this,” Annabelle said, smiling.
“Wait! This was just between us,” Pucorl said.
“He’s the one with the chicken blood and enchanted chalk.”
“That’s not important. Anything that will mark the ground will work. It’s the patterns, not the—” Pucorl started, then stopped. That wasn’t true, and it was better to be caught in a mistake than a lie. The patterns controlled the spell, but the spell did need enchantment. Holy water, blood, rosemary picked at the dark of the moon and ground into a paste in a stone mortar with an ashwood pestle. There were all sorts of substitutions, but you did need a certain class of materials, and what sort of magical creature you got depended on which materials you used. Pucorl was experienced as a demon of knowledge, and in his new body with its computer brain, he was able to access his knowledge in a clearer way than he was used to. “Oh, darn! You’re right.”
“Oh, darn?” Bill asked, incredulously. “A demon saying darn instead of damn?”
“You need to watch your language too, Bill Howe. For in the here and now, the words you use carry a weight and a power that is much greater than it ever was in your world. Tossing around unspecified curses like that could curse you or your companions. And if it carries a risk for you, how much more for me, who is a creature of the magic world, where the words are weapons as well as tools?”
“Okay, okay. What the he— Hildebrand. I’ll watch my mouth. But can you call one of your buds to the iPod, and if you call one, do we still need the pentagram and all the curlicues?”
“Yes, you do,” Pucorl said. “Calling a demon without wards is dangerous. Not all demons are friendly, and if you call one without wards it could decide that it would rather occupy you than the device. If that happened, you would have no control over it. None at all.”
“Say, was anyone taking ancient mythology or anything like that as an elective?” Bill asked.
“I don’t think so. We could ask Mrs. Grady,” Wilber said.
Pucorl cringed. The brake lights flickered without Pucorl’s conscious intent. Amelia Grady held the key, literally, to controlling him. He didn’t want her to know that. And he had just let slip a big clue to how it worked. In the meantime, he called to an old acquaintance of his and pointed out the advantages of the iPod. After all, better a sort of friend than an out-and-out enemy.
The mortal realm was both infinitely far from and right next to the spirit realm. He was almost entirely in the mortal realm at the moment, but he still had a connection to his home. It was weak and tenuous, and he couldn’t tell very much from it, but the connection was there. Part of the law of contagion, which stated that whenever two things touch they remain connected. Pucorl had been touching that bit of the netherworld since dinosaurs ruled the mortal realms, and because of that he was touching it now. But the distance was great, if the connection was well-worn. Which made it hard to whisper in a friend’s ear without the neighbors hearing.