Demons of Paris – Snippet 05
The Tower of Gabriel Delaflote
February 12, 1372
Gabriel didn’t live in the tower for reasons of spellcraft, though he wished that were the reason. He lived here because he had few paying students and this was the cheapest faculty room in the entire university. The roof leaked, the wind howled through cracks in the walls, cracks large enough to be called windows if they had shutters. When he remembered, he packed them with bits of wood and daub.
For the past two days, he hadn’t remembered, because he was too busy trying to figure out what he had done wrong in the casting of that first spell. Either that, or being interviewed by three bishops, a commissaire of police, and the chief lawyer of the king of France. The state of his room — such as it was — didn’t impinge on him at all. He was too busy.
He studied another account and read another description of the summoning of a familiar, this one in the form of a crow. Summoned by someone by the name of Marcus Varro — probably a pseudonym — in the consulship of Gnaeus Servilius Caepio and Gaius Servilius Geminus, around two hundred years before the birth of Christ. It was like all the others in that the demon tried to get out of answering and took every opportunity to misdirect but couldn’t actually lie to the spell caster. The description said “owner,” but Gabriel took that to mean “spell caster.” And that rule applied even after the crow had been released from the pentagram.
It didn’t occur to him to wonder if perhaps Marcus Varro had sent a slave to the market to buy a live crow for him to put into the pentagram, and the spell didn’t mention it. Gabriel assumed that the crow had appeared when called, so it didn’t occur to him that “owner” might refer to “owner of the crow.”
Not until the knock at his door and the entrance of three of the young visitors, dressed in their outlandish garb and speaking a language that was most definitely not French, whatever they claimed.
They tried to tell him something but he couldn’t understand. The large young man grabbed his arm, getting ready to pull him from his room until the rather mannish girl said something sharp and probably threatening to him. The smaller boy pulled an object from his pocket, said something that sounded disappointed, went over to a window and held the little slate outside.
Wilber looked at the phone. “Yes,” he crowed, “I have a Bluetooth connection. Pucorl, repeat what we tell him, but in Langue d’oil.” He turned back to the French guy and said, “You have to put the vessel in the pentagram or the demon, ah, spirit gets to pick their own.”
The phone stayed silent.
“Talk, van,” Bill said, “or I’m gonna come down there and slash your tires.”
“And you’d better tell the truth,” Wilber added. “Because sooner or later we’re going to find out if you don’t. And if you lie, Bill here is going to get medieval on your tailpipe with a crowbar.”
“I sure am,” Bill said forcefully.
“Well, if you’re going to be that way about it,” Pucorl said over the phone, sounding put out. Then he said something in Langue d’oil and Wilber listened closely. To the best he could tell, which wasn’t great, the van had spoken the truth.
The French guy said something.
“What did he say?” Wilber asked.
“He wasn’t talking to you or anyone,” Pucorl said.
“Well, tell us what he said anyway,” Bill said, “or do I go looking for sugar to put in your gas tank?”
“He said, ‘but none of the descriptions mention that.’ ”
“Do they mention you’re supposed to breathe while you talk?” Annabelle muttered, and Pucorl repeated it in Langue d’oil in a decent imitation of Annabelle’s voice.
The guy looked offended, then stopped. “No, mademoiselle. You are correct. It could be that it was simply something everyone knew. I wonder about the fauns, though. I have records of at least two cases where the familiars arrived in the form of a faun.”
Pucorl translated, using the French man’s voice, then said in his own, “Probably statues. It’s unlikely there were any actual fauns handy to use, and I sure wouldn’t want to use one of the horny bastards as a vessel.”
Bill snickered, and so did the French guy when Pucorl said it in Langue d’oil.
“Arrêt,” said the man. Wilber couldn’t remember his name. He was lousy with names. But the guy was going through his books with a frantic haste that Wilber found quite familiar. The guy had just thought of something. He pointed at a page, said a word, then another, and said the same word.
And suddenly Pucorl was cussing a blue streak without ever actually saying anything that might invoke a god or a demon. “Crud, merde, cow patties, darn your dirty socks. A nasty midden product, honey buckets and horny bastards . . .” And on like that. Part of it was in modern French, part in English, part in Langue d’oil, part — Wilber thought — in Latin, Greek and… Sumerian, maybe?
Hearing it, the guy . . . that was it. Delaflote. Gabriel Delaflote, doctor of natural philosophy. Gabriel was grinning, then started to laugh outright. He said something in Langue d’oil and Pucorl cussed even louder, but didn’t translate. Imperiously, Gabriel gestured for Wilber to come to him. He pointed to a word on a parchment. It was written in a crabbed, tiny hand, and very old. “Que?” he said, poking the word.
“Annabelle, what’s that word he’s pointing at?” Wilber said, and Annabelle came over and looked. “Que” was French. Old French and Latin, or close enough for “who,” so Wilber got that part.
Gabriel repeated “Que something van?”
“I think the word is ‘owned.'” Annabelle didn’t sound sure.
“That would be Mrs. Grady,” Wilber said.
“Technically, it would be the school, but it’s assigned to Mrs. Grady and the drama club.”
“That means we all own it,” Bill said, “because we’re in the drama club. That’s how we got stuck in this mess. Mrs. Grady and her stupid field trip to see a play.”
Wilber considered, then walked over to the window again, and tried to restore his Bluetooth connection with the van. But Pucorl wasn’t cooperating. Wilber put his phone in his pocket and said, “We go to van,” in the best approximation of Langue d’oil he could manage. Which probably wasn’t great, but was apparently good enough, because when he left the room Gabriel Delaflote was right on his heels.
Wilber opened the driver’s side door and said, “Either you talk to us or I go get Mrs. Grady and tell her everything I’ve figured out.”
“What have you figured out?” Pucorl asked.
“Nope,” Wilber said. “You’re going to answer our questions and you’re going to answer them honestly, because if I think you’re lying, I’m going to go get Mrs. Grady.”
“Tattletale,” Pucorl muttered in an aggrieved tone.
Annabelle laughed at that.
“Talk, Pucorl,” Wilber said. “Tell . . .” Wilber stopped. What he’d been about to say was “tell us about ownership,” but he didn’t want to give Pucorl the clue that word represented. “Tell us about the spell and tell Gabriel here anything he wants to know, translating for us. Tell Gabriel what I said.”
Pucorl, with a pout in his voice, did.
Gabriel started asking questions. It didn’t take long.
In five minutes, Pucorl went from obfuscating to begging, and they knew who owned the van within the meaning of demonic law. Possession was not actually nine-tenths of the law, only about seven or maybe five. Official ownership was vital. So, having the keys gave Mrs. Grady some control over Pucorl. Control good enough so that he couldn’t lie to her, though he could mislead her. That the van was assigned to Mrs. Grady gave her more control. Enough so that if someone stole the keys, Pucorl would have the option of trying to return to her in spite of being stolen. But only the option. It wasn’t like she was his official owner. The members of the drama club had some call on his loyalty, but Gabriel had none from the moment that Pucorl exited the pentagram on arrival. Even if Pucorl had stayed in the pentagram, it wouldn’t have given Delaflote any legal control. Just power.
Gabriel was nodding now, as Pucorl translated what he had told the alchemist to modern English. What Pucorl told him was fitting in with what he knew.
Wilber looked over at Annabelle, then at Bill. Bill wasn’t one of Wilber’s favorite people. Given his choice, Wilber would have left Bill out of the group who had the secret of Pucorl’s ownership. Bill’s dad was a lawyer, and sometimes that came out in Bill going into negotiation mode.
Even now Pucorl was promising them anything they wanted as long as they didn’t tell Mrs. Grady. It was almost enough to make Wilber want to tell her, because he didn’t understand why Pucorl was so afraid of her finding out. Mrs. Grady was okay for a teacher, not one of the bad ones who got off on humiliating you. “What do you think, Gabriel? Why is he so afraid?” Wilber asked and Pucorl translated.
The Frenchman tilted his head and considered. “Because she could tie him into the van permanently. Right now, if the van were destroyed, he would go back to where he came from. But if the owner of the van denies him that right and the van is destroyed, he will be destroyed with it.”
“I don’t think Mrs. Grady would do that,” Wilber said.
“There are advantages. The magic he can do if he is tied into the van is greater, and what the owner can tie, they can untie. Mrs. Grady is your teacher, yes? She is responsible for you? If it let her protect you better?”
“She might,” Annabelle said. “She’s pretty serious about her responsibilities. Besides, there’s Paul. He’s her son. Whatever it takes, she’s going to protect him. Should we tell her?”
“Are you nuts?” Bill said. “This is a friggin’ gold mine. You never give up this sort of advantage in a negotiation.” He looked around and Wilber wanted to argue, but didn’t. It was true they needed help and Pucorl’s cooperation.
“Cool,” Bill said. “Now, about haunting my iPod? How do we do it and set it up so that the demon can help me talk to these people? And let’s be clear. This is my iPod. Any demon in it is gonna work for me.”
“Now, wait a moment. You asked me to recruit someone to occupy your iPod. You must promise not to tie them to it completely.”
“You’ll do it or — ” Bill started to say, standing.
But Annabelle was standing too. “You’re gonna back off, Bill, or I’m going to tell Mrs. Grady, whether you like it or not.”
“Just calm down, everyone,” Wilber said. “Look, if Pucorl wasn’t willing to stand up for his friends, how could we trust him?”
“Just because he wants to protect his demon buds doesn’t mean we can trust him.”
“That’s why we check everything he says with Gabriel,” Annabelle said.
“We can do that whether I lock down his boy or not.”
Pucorl was telling Gabriel everything they were saying and suddenly Gabriel said, “It’s all right. I know how the demon can be tied to the object, but I will not tell you, Bill. We will treat with Pucorl and his friends with honor.”
“Pucorl, you tell me or I tell Mrs. Grady,” Bill said.
Annabelle said, “If you tell Bill how to bind the demon, I’ll tell Mrs. Grady.”
“Tell Mom what?” Paul Grady asked. He was standing in the north gate of the courtyard. The van was parked a little north of center, where it had stopped yesterday after its abrupt arrival, putting them about fifteen feet from Paul.
“This just keeps getting better and better,” said Pucorl.
“It’s okay,” said Bill as he turned to Paul and waved him over. “Paul and I are friends. He’s using me to understand the criminal mind. Right, kid?”
Paul grinned. “Dad says a good cop has to have ears on the street.” By the time he had finished the sentence that reminded him of his missing father, the grin was gone.
Quickly, Bill said, “We got Pucorl here to tell us how to put demons in the computers. We’re going to put one in my iPod.”
The distraction apparently worked. Paul’s eyes widened, and he said, “Boss! I want one on my game system.”
Gabriel turned to the van and asked, “What are the standard things to use as vessels when calling a demon or spirit?”
“It depends on the demon and on what you want done. For something powerful like a djinn, you want something that is just a cage. A jewel or a lamp, but not a sword or a statue, and never an animal.”
“A truly powerful demon can animate a statue, bring it to life. That’s how that Jew created a golem . . . oh, that hasn’t happened yet. Never mind. Anyway, a powerful demon can animate something that has the shape of an animal or a human or a mythical beast. That’s what I meant about the fauns earlier. It was probably someone who stuck an inlaid, detailed statue of a faun in the star of containment. That can be really, really risky if the demon is unhappy about being summoned.”
“Look, all this is interesting, but hadn’t we better get on with it before we have more visitors?” Bill asked.
“That’s why I came out here. Jennifer got into a fight with Liane, and Mom is breaking them up. Jennifer was saying that the French were still stuck in the Middle Ages. That’s when Liane hit her.”
“Catfight! Cool,” said Bill, and Annabelle rolled her eyes.
“Still, it would be better if we could take this upstairs to my quarters,” said Gabriel, looking at the guards standing as far from the van as they could get while staying in the courtyard. “I’m not actually authorized to do any more summonings. The church only agreed to this one after Father Augustin was murdered. And even then, they only agreed because none of us really thought it would work.”
“We are going to want Pucorl’s input on this,” Wilber said. “I had to hold my phone out the window, remember?”
“We need a repeater somewhere,” Annabelle said. “We can use my phone.”
“Right. You guys head up to the doctor’s quarters. I’ll sync with Pucorl and Annabelle’s phone and join you there.” Wilber started to do just that.
The rest left while Wilber synced his phone with Annabelle’s, then set up a link to the van’s onboard phone. That would let Pucorl see through Wilber’s phone camera once he found a place to put Annabelle’s phone to make the link. He looked around. The doctor’s tower was one building over, and it was the intervening building that was blocking the signal.
It took him over half an hour to find a place that would work and convince a guard to put Annabelle’s phone up in a niche in the stone of the intervening building. Phones, PDAs, slates, laptops in the first part of the twenty-first century all had radios, but they were not particularly strong radios. The strongest of all the radios that had come with them to this middle world of magic was the one in the van, and it wasn’t any more powerful than an old citizen’s band radio of the sort that were popular before Wilber was born.
He got the cell phone in place and headed for the tower.
Etienne Gaudet had sharp ears and a knack for languages. That was why he was chosen to guard the van. He didn’t follow most of what the strangers and Doctor Delaflote said to one another, but he did understand some of it. He placed the phone in the window where the boy wanted it and returned to the courtyard. Then, after telling his sergeant what he thought was going on, was sent to the headquarters. Etienne was one of Bertrand du Guesclin’s men, and he had news for his general.
Wilber was panting as he knocked on the doctor’s door. Paul opened it and Wilber gasped. The rugs had been pulled back, and beneath them, painted in red, was a fancy pentagonal star, carefully laid out with all the bells and whistles. Gabriel was kneeling on the floor with a paintbrush and a clay pot of red paint.
“We were just waiting for you to get here so Pucorl could look it over,” Paul said. “It’s a long way up, ain’t it?”
“Yes.” Wilber coughed. Then he took his phone from his pocket and started going over the design, sending the image to the van. It took a few more minutes and some discussion between Gabriel and Pucorl. Two minor corrections were made to the pentagram; a third was rejected because it made Gabriel nervous.
Then, carefully, without touching any of the lines, Bill Howe placed his iPod in the center and equally carefully stepped out.
Gabriel cast the spell while Wilber pointed the camera at him and listened to Pucorl’s comments, which amounted to a critique of Gabriel’s techniques and the suggestion that if something hadn’t loosened things up a lot, it wouldn’t have worked at all. About halfway through the incantation, the iPod started to glow and the glow got denser and brighter, taking on an almost human form before shrinking into the device.
“Marvelous,” said a voice from the iPod. “I can see. Oh, games!” It spoke modern English with just a trace of a French accent.
There was silence, then a series of gunshots, the noise of a car screeching around a corner.
“I hate to interrupt, dude,” Bill said, “but that is my iPod and you work for me.”
“Sure, sure. Call me Ishmael, boss. Whatcha need?”
Bill paused for a moment, considering. Where did the demon get the name Ishmael? Oh, that’s right, he thought. I have a copy of Moby Dick on the iPod. Then he brought his mind back to what was going on. What would Dad do? He grinned and said, “What has Pucorl not told us that we need to know?”
“Hey, wait a minute,” Pucorl said.
“Sorry,” the iPod said. “It’s his iPod. You know the rules.” Then it started in on a long and fairly convoluted dissertation on all the minutia that Pucorl hadn’t bothered with.
“Stop,” Wilber said. “Bill, have it tell us what Pucorl is trying to hide.”
“Now, how am I supposed to know that?” Ishmael asked.
“Tell us what Pucorl is trying to hide,” Bill said. And Ishmael did. It mostly amounted to who the demon had to be truthful with and how it could avoid answering. But there were also a few details of an embarrassing nature. Pucorl, it turned out, was a very minor demon. He had access to some basic knowledge, but nothing major. And there were lots of different types of spirits in the many and various spirit realms, many of whom neither Pucorl nor Ishmael knew anything about. Even in their particular section of the netherworld, there were more powerful and flexible demons. One of them was pressuring Pucorl right now, wanting to get access to one of the electronic devices.
“Why is that a problem?” Bill asked, but it was Pucorl who answered.
“Because he doesn’t like me.”
“Is it a bad demon?” Paul asked.
“Not exactly,” Ishmael said. “Demons are different, and we count good and bad differently.”
“Is it a bad demon, Ishmael?” asked Bill, who had picked up on the fact that while Ishmael could not lie to him, he could lie to others in Bill’s presence.
“No,” Ishmael said.
“Then what was the rest of that stuff about?” Bill asked.
“Pucorl doesn’t want him here and I owed Pucorl for getting me into the iPod. Sorry, Pucorl.” There was honest regret in Ishmael’s voice.
Wilber had seen the effect Pucorl had on the van and a little of the effect Ishmael had on the iPod. He had a question. He walked around the star and sat on the cot that Gabriel used as a bed. “Bill, would you ask Ishmael some questions for me? It’s important.”
Bill looked at him, started to say something like “what’s in it for me?” then didn’t. Instead, he said, “Okay. What questions?”
“Do you know what a cochlear implant is?”
Bill nodded in sudden understanding and repeated the question.
“I do now,” Ishmael said. “We are mostly, but not entirely, limited by the senses of the vessels we inhabit. You have a cochlear implant and the external unit.”
“Yes, I do. If a demon were to inhabit my implant, would it be able to control me?”
“No. But if you were in the circle inside the pentagram when it was called, it could occupy you instead of the implant.” There was a short pause, but before Wilber could pass Bill the next question, Ishmael continued, “The safe way would be to put the external unit in the circle, turned off so the demon couldn’t migrate to the internal unit until you established ownership.”
Wilber nodded. “What about recharging?”
“That’s not a problem. Once we are in an electronic device, it will never run down until we leave.”
Wilber had been worried about that since they realized they were in the fourteenth century. Most of their electronic devices could be recharged from plugs in the van, but not his implant. It needed new batteries and it needed them every few days. “My battery is going to run down soon and I will be profoundly deaf when that happens. That is a thing I would like to avoid. Do you think that this demon would like to be my ears?”
“He might at that,” Ishmael said.
“I think it’s an excellent solution,” Pucorl said.
Wilber, afraid of having a demon whispering in his ear but even more afraid of having his batteries run down, took off the external unit and carefully put it in the center of the pentagram. The invocation proceeded without a hitch. Wilber went back into the circle and put his ear back on.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
The voice that replied was deep and resonant. “The first part of it is Ghariqualib-hed-Uthrak and that’s as much as I’m required to say.”
Wilber didn’t even try to pronounce the name. “Never mind,” he said. “I’ll just call you Merlin.”
“I can answer to that. Choosing this was another one of the puck’s little jokes, but I am less displeased than I might be.”
Wilber subvocalized, “Puck?”
“It’s not his name. He’s a puck, not the Puck, not Robin Goodfellow. It’s a class of minor demons or spirits common to this part of the world. It’s very true that, by hallowed custom, a demon is forbidden to give the name of another demon.” There was not exactly an echo effect as Merlin spoke, but there were shades of meaning that came with the words. “Name” in this case wasn’t the same as it would be in naming a person. It had aspects of chains to it, and of passwords, but also something about a complete description and the law of similarity. The meaning of the word is subtly different between the languages. Wilber wasn’t at all sure what those differences were, but this was no time to worry about it.
“So is it working?” Gabriel asked, and Wilber heard him clearly in Langue d’oil. The meaning was as clear as the sound of his voice. Whatever the magic had done, it was also doing with the French dialect of the time, adding in the subtle differences in meaning as he heard the words.
“It’s working fine,” he said in English, and in his ears he heard the words in Langue d’oil that he could say to carry the meaning to Gabriel. He repeated what the demon told him and Gabriel blinked in surprise.
There was a knock on the door, followed quickly by Mrs. Grady’s voice. “What is going on in there?”
“Epic fail!” Paul moaned. “Busted!”