The Demons of Constantinople – Snippet 29
“We can build a generator if we have to. I want to see Pucorl when he gets here. Say, did you notice Annabelle’s chair is right next to Pucorl’s?” Wilber shook his head. He liked Annabelle, and knew that she had a sort of old-fashioned love-from-afar crush on Pucorl. That had to remain an unrequited crush, since Pucorl was a van, not a man. This could add whole levels of complications that Wilber was fairly sure they didn’t need.
Pucorl wasn’t warned. He did get a call telling him to make sure that he dropped off his passengers before he entered the garage. Until he got the instruction, he’d planned on staying in the parking lot and attending by phone. As he pulled into the garage, he started to change.
He changed like a Transformer from one of Paul’s movies, until he was a metal man. He was dark green, like his van body. Then he turned, and as he approached the door, he became flesh, covered in a dark green flack jacket and twenty-first century body armor, including a helmet with a heads-up display.
He had no idea what he looked like under the armor. The major effect of the change to flesh and armor was to leave him utterly terrified, because he couldn’t do it. He lacked anything like that ability, and if Zeus . . .
That was who it was, Merlin informed him.
If Zeus could do this, what else could Zeus do to him?
Pucorl had been playing out of his weight class ever since he got the van body. And even more after he ran over the demon. But this? He wasn’t a mouse among cats here. He was a cockroach in a room full of elephants.
With great trepidation, Pucorl walked into the pentagram room and sat on the raised chair.
Then they got down to it. For what seemed like a week, they talked about magic. How the demon realm worked. How it was that mortal callings were more powerful than almost all demonic callings. About the threat to the netherworld caused by the rifts in the veil. And, for that matter, the danger to the mortal realm, at least the planet Earth.
And mostly they tried to figure out a way to prevent the gods from being called against their will. That, to Zeus and most of the rest of the gods, was the overwhelming issue.
The Creator of All wasn’t in attendance, not in its own person, and while Raphico was, he was unable or unwilling to offer any concrete suggestions. As to Cardinal de Monteruc, Zeus and the other gods essentially ignored him. Their only answer to any of his queries about their status in Heaven were met with “You wouldn’t understand.”
Wilber got a bit more, let drop mostly by accident. But it amounted to “the gods didn’t understand either.” They were gods, angels, heroes, demons, devils, villains, all mixed together and would, in the course of their cycles, fulfill all of those roles and more, including being a part of the Creator and totally separate from it.
It was suggested by the cardinal — and sarcastically at that — that since they were gods they could change the books that Gabriel had printed, so that they lacked the knowledge of how to force a demon into a mortal world container. There were two problems with that. One was that if you knew how to ask them to come, you knew how to force them to come. The spells weren’t that different. And, second, because the gods had limited power in the mortal realm, they had to work through proxies who were in the real world, unless they were committing way too much of themselves to the project. They were much more powerful on this side of the veils.
And there was the issue of Leona, the self-made griffin. She was proof that, given the right circumstance, a mortal could injure a demon and, in so doing, gain some of the abilities of the demon they ate. Leona, for instance, had the will o’ the wisp’s ability to disappear by slipping halfway into the netherworld and back at will. She also got the ability to fly, and knowledge of how to fly, as well as speech centers, from the crow. Which wasn’t how it normally worked when a cat ate a crow.
That meant that humans, or for that matter, animals from the mortal realm were at least potentially a real and permanent threat to beings of the netherworld.
And as the rifts in the veil between worlds expanded, that threat would get worse. There could come a day when a cat or a bird might wander by accident into the netherworld, eat a demon, and return to the mortal world, taking the magic with it. And if that happened often enough, the netherworld itself might never recover.
“We’re like global warming,” Lakshmi commented. “Only worse.”
As it happened, the gods weren’t the only ones with issues. Roger and Bertrand wanted a better communications for the military of Constantinople and there wasn’t time to do it piecemeal. At the least they needed all their phones and devices to be able to contact one another from anywhere in Byzantium, and they needed that ability right now. They couldn’t produce that quickly enough, not in the mortal realm. They didn’t need “Deus ex Machina,” “god from the machine.” What they needed was “Machina ex Deus,” “machines from the gods.”
Zeus wasn’t willing to make the necessary “demigods”/devices/people to run the system and while Themis wanted to help, she pointed out privately that she had been diminished by what she was forced to do in the sword. She was a ravaged land as much or more than the Byzantine Empire. Still she agreed to work with Wilber to at least set up a phone exchange.
More talk ensued, and a telephone exchange was installed in Themis’ realm that would connect all the phones. In exchange, Wilber and Gabriel promised to do all they could to find a way to anchor the gods and prevent them from being forced into containers.
Location: The House of Gaius Augustus Crassus, Constantinople
Time: Evening, November 19, 1372
Theodore Meliteniotes knocked, paused, knocked twice, paused again, and knocked once more. The knocks had started out as security in the time of Constantine. By now it was hallowed tradition, but still security. If he had knocked differently they would have known either that he was not here on the business of the senate or that he was here under duress.
The door opened and Gaius gestured him in sharply, then closed the door so quickly that the door almost caught Theodore’s cloak.
Once the door was closed, Gaius hissed, “What are you doing here? Have you betrayed us?”
The “us” in question was the “Senatorium Republicum.”
“Never!” Theodore was startled and greatly offended by the suggestion.
“Then how did you get your release?”
Now Theodore understood. “The French delegation. One of its senior members is a correspondent of mine.” He snorted. “Not a proper scholar. Gabriel Deloflote is subject to flights of fancy and believes in ghosts and fairies, much as he might deny it.”
Gaius, a short, pudgy man with a ring of black hair surrounding the completely bald top of his head, looked at Theodore and shook his head in wonder. “You do recall what got you arrested, don’t you? It was the successful use of Doctor Delaflote’s book to summon a demon.”
“Yes, yes, I know. But Gabriel believed in demons and the old gods before there was any evidence for them. He tried to hide it, but it was there in his correspondence, in the experiments he wanted to try. And he says that astrology works. Not a proper scholar.”
Gaius shook his head again. “Never mind. What are you doing here?”
“It’s the twenty-firsters,” Theodore said. “They come from republics. The Republic of France, the United States of America, which is a tiered republic. An alliance and more than an alliance of states, which are all republics. And even the England of that time, backwards as the English always are, is a republican monarchy, in which the crown represents the state, but the government is republican in form.”
“Yes. I had heard something about that, though not in such detail. But what has that to do with us or our cause?”
“They are proof that republics are not a passing fad. And more, they offer knowledge of the methods of their republics’ methods that we can use in restoring the Republica Roma.”
“It’s not the time, Theodore. No one wants to see the republic restored more than I, but. . . . We need stability and a strong monarchy right now. Even in the heyday of the republic, dictators were appointed in times like these.”
That was true, but they continued to talk and Theodore persuaded Gaius, who was the senior senator of the Senate Republica to let Theodore investigate the twenty-first century republics to understand how they dealt with difficult times.