Demons of Paris – Snippet 01
THE DEMONS OF PARIS
By Eric Flint, Gorg Huff, Paula Goodlett
Alley off Rue Cler
January 27, 1372
Commissaire Pierre Dubois of the Grand Chatelet 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 chamberpots 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 Hebert, 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 Chatelet.”
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 Chatelet
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 court yard. 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 road kill 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 Wilbur 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.