Demons of Paris – Snippet 03
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 kidnaped 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’oil 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 demon kind, 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’oil.”
“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.