The Demons of Constantinople – Snippet 15
Chapter 5 — On The River Again
Location: Near Asuma’s Tree, Vienna, Austria
Time: 6:45 PM, September 23, 1372
No one noticed the events in Asuma’s pentagram, because they were all distracted by a nobleman who’d accompanied Leopold to the scene. He was a big, tough-looking fellow they’d never seen before.
As the sun was touching the treetops, and moments after Themis disappeared, Leopold’s companion drew his sword and proclaimed, “I challenge you, Roger McLean, for you are peasant born and unworthy to own such a blade.”
“Put your sword away,” Roger said without drawing the sword. “I don’t own this sword, to begin with. It is the Sword of Themis, and no man owns it.”
“Then I claim it as my right,” Leopold’s companion said.
It was obvious to Roger that whoever this arrogant jackass was, Leopold himself had put him up to it. He looked at him and said, “Archduke, this is really not smart. Call him off.”
Leopold said nothing. Still holding his sword, his companion came up to Roger and reached as though to take the sword.
Some small part of Themis’ awareness was always in the sword, and Roger was expecting her simply to refuse to move, as she had dealt with Charles of France.
But Themis had apparently had enough of being claimed by nobles by right of blood. Or, for that matter, being claimed by anyone.
<Kill him!> The words were shouted in Roger’s mind in a voice that was Themis’ and not Themis’, and there was no question at all that this was a command. Almost without his will — and certainly without any sort of thought or consideration — Roger’s hand flashed back over his shoulder, grasped Themis’ hilt, and swung. As always, Themis was as light as a feather in his hands and Roger was strong. The blade moved almost faster than the eye could follow and passed through the nobleman from shoulder to hip.
It wasn’t a fight. Holding his sword or not, Leopold’s companion never stood a chance. It was an execution ordered by a god and carried out by Roger. The man’s upper body fell to one side, his lower to the other. Blood gushed everywhere. So did intestines and . . . other organs.
Roger flicked Themis and more blood spattered the grass. When he returned the sword to his shoulder, it was clean and dry as though it had not cut through a man. And in his mind he asked, “Why?”
<It was not my sister Themis who gave you your command, Roger, but me, Nemesis.>
<Do not rail at my sister.> Themis said. <She would not have acted without my acquiescence.>
Roger was soaked in blood and covered with gore. “You may have given your acquiescence. I didn’t give mine, not to your sister.” Roger was pissed. He had a personal relationship with Themis, like a lot of Christians claim to have with God. In Roger’s case there was no illusion to it. He had owned her for a short, if very intense, time and felt the depth of her mind and soul. It let him trust her in a way that he didn’t trust anyone else, not even himself. That trust was definitely not extended to her sister or the other gods who were her family. That Themis would let her sister use him this way . . . that was a betrayal.
The whole thing had happened so fast he’d never had time to even think about getting himself out of the way, much less refusing. The smell was . . . incredible. Roger had heard of slaughterhouse stench but had never experienced it himself. Luckily, there was a breeze blowing and he was able to step aside and get away from it.
His nerves were steady, though. That had been true when he killed Philip as well. He turned and faced Albert III, who was staring at him in shock. “I am sorry that had to happen, Your Grace. But I warned your brother and his man” — he didn’t bother looking at Leopold — “and in this I was a man under orders. Queen Themis of Themis will not be claimed by mortal man, and any who tries to hold her against her wishes will have their mortality instantly demonstrated.”
Location: Pucorl’s Lands
Time: 11:55 PM, September 23, 1372
Pucorl appeared in his spot of the parking lot at Pucorl’s Garage and the passengers piled out. After the events of the evening, they had left Vienna almost in an armed truce. It was clear and witnessed that the assault was caused by Leopold, but he was still Albert’s brother. And if they would have had difficulties later in life, that didn’t mean that Albert was happy his brother’s man had died. Almost the only thing that kept him from ordering Roger’s arrest was the Sword of Themis, still riding on his shoulder.
“What is it with you, Roger?” Lakshmi asked. “Do you have to get us kicked out of every kingdom we pass through?”
“Not my idea this time. Or, for that matter, the other time either. If I recall correctly, having me run off with Themis after the battle of Paris was Raphico’s idea, and the rest of you agreed.”
“Well, titan or not, your sword needs deportment lessons. Talk first, kill later. That way, if you do it right, you can avoid the killing part.” She sighed. “Never mind. I know it’s not your fault. Maybe it’s not even Themis’ fault. But we have to develop better ways of dealing with these barbarian kings than we have found so far.”
Roger didn’t correct her about which god gave the order. That was an issue between him and Themis. He didn’t blame Nemesis. It was Themis who had lent him to her sister as though he was a possession.
“Oh, I don’t know . . .” Annabelle smirked. “. . . it seems efficient to me. If we can get them to line up, Rog can kill enough of the bastards to make democracy feasible. I never thought I would say it back in the world, but I want politicians.”
Wilber let them talk. Since they were back in the netherworld, Merlin had assumed his winged human form and was carrying Wilber’s computer under his arm. As he was walking toward the Happytime, Wilber saw a cat run over the bridge, then spread its wings and fly. “What the heck?”
A few quick flaps and a glide, and the cat, which was now a cat-sized gryphon, landed on the path ahead of Wilber and said “Hi” in Leona’s voice. And Wilber realized it wasn’t exactly a gryphon. At least, not a standard gryphon. It fell somewhere between a gryphon and a manticore. It still had a cat’s head, but the jaw was more pointed. It had a cat’s ears, but the hair was almost tufts of feathers around the ears. It did have the front claws of a crow, and the back claws of a cat.
“What happened to you, Leona?”
“It turns out that Carlos was on the menu, after all,” Leona said with a very cattish smirk in her meow. Then continued. “I didn’t expect the wings or the talons. But I am not displeased.”
Leona was still a fairly small cat. But for a winged creature, she was huge, about the size of an eagle.
“Anyway, I need you to have a talk with Charles de Long. I ate his crow, but he don’t own me. I’m a cat! Well, sort of.”
Wilber shook his head. “We’ll think of something.”
Bertrand du Guesclin came to visit Roger that evening. By then, there wasn’t anything left in Roger’s stomach. His nerves had held steady until they were out of any danger, but then the reaction had finally hit. He’d spent several minutes on his hands and knees vomiting. Fortunately, he’d been able to get out on an empty patch of land before doing so.
The former Constable of France sat next to him and placed a friendly hand on his shoulder. “You’ve never killed anyone up close like that, I believe.”
Roger shook his head. “Dammit, Bertrand, I come from a civilized world, meaning no offense. I’d never killed anyone until I came here. The zombies on the wall don’t count. That was combat and they were already dead.”
The truth was that Roger wasn’t sure that everyone he killed on the walls of Paris was already dead. The living were mixed into that zombie army.
“I think the first, and until now the last, person I killed was Philip and I was never within thirty feet of the man, even when I called the sword.” Roger shook his head. “A couple of high school fist fights, that was it. And shooting Philip wasn’t . . .” He shook his head again.
“Not the same thing as hacking a man in pieces and being covered by his blood and guts. Yes, I know. I will never forget my first battlefield. Believe me, I wasn’t the only survivor puking afterward. If it makes you feel any better, you will get used to it as time passes — although you never will completely, unless you are a madman.”
Roger wiped his face with a hand. “Boy, does that make me not feel good.”
Bertrand patted his shoulder again. “You said it yourself. You are no longer in a civilized world. And I didn’t take offense at that because I agree with you. Ours is a barbarous world.”
He rose to his feet. “I predict you will do well here. Tiphaine’s done your horoscope and predicts the same.”
Location: Joe Kraken, Near the Black Sea End of the Bosporus
Time: 2:15 PM, September 27, 1372
Pucorl sat on Joe Kraken’s deck as the rain poured over him. Pucorl was a van, so rain didn’t bother him all that much. He ran his wipers and had the heat going on low, so Annabelle was comfortable. She and Jennifer were working on a new crystal set. Jennifer had the theory, but Annabelle had talented hands. This model was going to have speakers, earphones, eyes, and a screen. It wouldn’t be a real screen. It would be a flat piece of wood painted with a chemical mix that was similar to that used on Joe Kraken’s hull. Because of his chephlopodish origins, Joe Kraken knew about skin that could change color in a heartbeat and they were trying for the same thing in this crystal set. They were also waiting for the scouts to get back.
Wilber, sitting in Joe Kraken’s cabin with Merlin on the table in front of him and Leona curled up on the cat stand, looking over his shoulder at the screen, was working on the incantation that would help adapt a demon to the crystal set phone.
When he wasn’t being interrupted by Leona’s comments or the requests for translation from animals with the scouting party.
“Meow,” Leona said, asking if he really wanted that diphthong there. Leona didn’t know anything about magic, but the fact that she was magical now, combined with the fact that she was a cat, convinced her that she must know more about magic than Wilber did.
Then a horse started complaining about the rain.