Demons of Paris – Snippet 04
February 10, 1372
The Jade Rabbit didn’t hear Pucorl’s whisper. The China of the netherworld was a very long way away. The moon of the netherworld rides on a crystal sphere and is even farther.
The Jade Rabbit slipped from the netherworld and found himself on a rocky plane that had no air at all. That didn’t bother the rabbit greatly. He was, after all, a companion of the Moon goddess Henge and as such partook of divinity himself. He had very little need to breathe.
What did bother the Jade Rabbit was his size. The moon of the mortal realm was closer to the earth and much, much larger. The rabbit didn’t have anything to measure by, but he doubted that he was more than sixty feet tall in this strange place.
The view was spectacular, though. And as far away as he was, the Jade Rabbit had little to fear from the great rent in the Earth’s pattern of reality that he could see spreading across the blue globe. The center of the rift was in Central Asia, at the ancient city mortals called Balkh, which had once given its name to the region known as Bactria. Some terrible crime must have been committed there, because the Jade Rabbit could see even at this distance that an immensely powerful demon had surged out of the netherworld to possess the ruler of the Chagatay. Only a great blood sacrifice could have made that possible, even for such a mighty demon.
The Jade Rabbit didn’t know the name of the city’s ruler, nor did he care. The concerns of mortals meant little to him. So, after a time he hopped toward the far side of the Moon to find out what he might see from that vantage point.
But he tired of that before long. The hops possible to a sixty-foot-tall rabbit didn’t allow him to make fast progress on a Moon grown so large. Eventually, he gave up and started looking for his mortar and pestle and the magical herbs from which he ground the elixir of eternal life. He wandered the moon of the mortal realm for a while longer, but didn’t find them.
Perhaps he had left them on the netherworld’s moon. The Jade Rabbit’s memory was not really very reliable. So, he decided to return home.
On the way, he glanced one last time at the blue globe below him. The rift was spreading, he saw. One of its crevasses was speeding across Europe, branching as it went. An especially deep fissure was plunging into France.
But none of that was any concern of his. He needed to get back to his grinding before Henge noticed his absence. His mistress was normally tranquil about such things, but she did occasionally get testy.
February 11, 1372
Dip slipped from the netherworld into the mortal realms without so much as a ripple. It was a rainy night. There was thunder in the distance and Dip didn’t like the rain. He told it to leave him alone, and in the netherworld that would usually work because the rain was afraid of him. But here, the rain fell, ignoring his will.
He growled, low in his throat, and moved to a door. It was closed, but he narrowed to two dimensions and slipped through the crack between door and frame. Returning to his normal state, his fur was still soaked with the mindless water of the mortal world. There was a puff of air as a shutter opened in the storm and the torches and lamps flickered with gusts of air. His paws left damp spots on the stone floor of the place, save for his left hind leg, which dragged, leaving a line.
He sniffed and wanted to howl. The green and living smell of this place offended him. But he kept going. He had been in Toledo a few days ago, and a bitter young Jew had been heaping curses on Henry of the house of Trastámara, who was the king of this part of Spain now.
There were hangings on the walls of the corridor, but Dip paid them no mind. He smelled the blood of many souls, and the aromas of sickness and hunger lightened his spirits. He moved silently through the castle halls.
Apparently, Henry was sucking the lifeblood of the Jews. Sucking the blood of mortals was Dip’s job. He resented the usurpation of his role, so he had come here to set matters right. He wandered through the halls, fighting the offensive aromas of life with his own sweet aroma of rotting corpses. He sniffed and smelled royal blood. He could do that even here.
Henry II, first king of Castile and León, woke with a chill and saw a shaggy black dog with a single red eye in the middle of its forehead. The dog opened its mouth to show rotting teeth, save for two gleaming canines.
“You’re a greedy bastard, you know that,” the dog growled.
Henry, without conscious intent, pushed himself back in the bed, scooting over the linen sheets and the wool blanket. The room was dark, all but two of the candles out, but somehow the black dog was clear to Henry’s eyes. “What are you?” Henry was on the edge of panic.
“Don’t you know your legends, greedy child? I’m the Dip. ‘Tis my function to suck the blood of mortals.”
“Why are you here?” Henry barely got that out through his tightening throat.
“I resent it when mortals encroach on my realm. The Jews of Toledo seem to think that you are a bigger bloodsucker than I am.”
Then the big black dog leaped, and that was all Henry knew.
The next morning, the guards found him with his throat ripped open and not a drop of blood in his body. The sheets were ripped and fouled with feces. The aroma of week-old corpses permeated the room.
Near Sarai Berke, capital of the Golden Horde
North of the Caspian Sea
February 11, 1372
The likho slouched toward the city, anticipating the feast to come. The magic from Timur’s land that was spreading across Asia like torrents, pouring down long-dry and empty channels, filled her evil spirit with power, like a ship sailing before the wind.
She had spotted her victim an hour earlier and was trailing him. The tinker was a middle-aged man, heavily-built and pushing a cart before him. He was still much more agile than the likho and could move more quickly. But that was true of almost anyone. It would not matter. She did not hunt the way wolves and leopards hunted.
The tinker had spotted the likho almost as soon as she had spotted him. At first, he had simply wondered what an old woman was doing on the steppes alone. He did not fear her, for she was gaunt as well as old. That much was clear even shrouded as she was in black garments.
He stopped for lunch — nothing more than stale bread, for he was a poor man — and by the time he rose to resume his journey to Sarai Berke, he saw that the woman was much closer.
And, for the first time, he saw that she had only a single eye — not because one eye was missing but because there was only one eye, right in the middle of her forehead.
Now, he was frightened. Whatever this creature was, she was unnatural. He seized the handles of his cart and pushed on. For a moment, he considered abandoning the cart. But when he looked back he could see that even pushing the cart he was able to move faster than the old woman.
He was very poor, and everything he owned was either in the cart or on his person. So, he kept pushing the cart.
Looking back after another hour, looking back, he could see no signs of the old woman and began to relax a little. Then, looking forward, he spotted something gleaming. Curious, and no longer greatly afraid, he guided his cart toward the bright object.
When he reached it, the tinker saw that it was the lip of a golden goblet which had been buried and was now partially exposed. That was the wind at work. The wind had been very strong for days now.
All other emotions were driven aside by greed. He got down on his knees and dug up the goblet.
Yes! From its weight as well as its appearance, it must be solid gold! He would be a rich man now!
He stayed there for some time, kneeling and gloating over his new-found treasure. Then, finally, the sounds of something scraping drew his eyes away.
It was the old woman, slowly and painfully coming toward him. The scrape had been one leg dragging behind the other.
Fear rushed back, but only for a moment. As horrible as she might be, the one-eyed woman dressed all in black was crippled as well as old. He could easily outpace her.
He rose to his feet — or started to. Suddenly, the weight of the goblet was enormous and dragged him back down. He tried to pick it up with both hands but it was no use. He might as well have tried to lift a great boulder.
The tinker was not a very intelligent man, but he understood at once that the goblet had been a ruse all along. A trick! A trap! It was not real, just an illustration of the old saw: if it’s too good to be true, it isn’t.
He let go of it and rose.
But he couldn’t! His right hand was free but his left hand stuck to the goblet as if held by glue. Desperately he tried to tear the hand loose — but to no avail.
He looked up, terrified. The old woman was but a short distance away. Her mouth opened and for the first time he saw her teeth.
Those were not human teeth. Not even the teeth of a wolf or a tiger. They were like the teeth of some fish he had once seen, caught in the Caspian. Jagged little knives.
He was frantic now, half-mindless with terror. He had a small knife at his belt which he drew and began sawing at his left wrist. He had managed to cut halfway through — blood spurting everywhere — when the old woman’s hands seized his head and crushed his skull.
The likho began to feed.
February 12, 1372
In Fujian, China, a very minor god also slid quietly and unnoticed from the netherworld to the mortal world. He was the god of homosexual love, and in his rabbit form he was even smaller than Jade Rabbit had been on the mortal moon. He was the size of an ordinary field rabbit.
He hopped over to an old man who was sitting at the edge of the village.
The old man, a local village god, looked up at his approach. “What are you doing here, Tu’er Shen?”
The village god didn’t seem happy to see him. Homosexuality wasn’t much more acceptable in the China of the fourteenth century than it was in the west. Fujian was more open about such relationships than much of the rest of China, and the village god had to answer to the whole heaping bureaucracy of the gods.
“Just looking around, old man,” Tu’er Shen said, waving a paw in a calming gesture. “Besides, you know I have a right to be here.”
The old village god grunted sourly. His village was made up of poor people, and he didn’t want any trouble for them. Not all the interactions between the mortal realm and the netherworld involved contact between mortals and immortals. Often, the gods or demons of the netherworld wandered into the mortal realm, looked around, then went back to their business.
The Chinese people had their own customs, religions, and superstitions, many of which were proving much more effective than they had been before the veils were ripped loose. But, for now at least, the celestial bureaucracy of China’s religion seemed to be mostly keeping things in check.
Not so, back in France.