Demons of Paris – Snippet 06
The Tower of Gabriel Delaflote
February 12, 1372
Annabelle muttered “lousy timing,” as she headed to the door. Bill got a demon in his iPod, Wilber got one in his hearing aid. Not that Annabelle begrudged Wilber or even Bill but . . . She opened the door to a panting Mrs. Grady, followed by Roger McLean, who was barely breathing hard. Annabelle grimaced. This is just getting better and better, she thought sardonically. Roger wouldn’t be half bad if he weren’t such a jerk. She appreciated tall, dark, and hunky as much as any girl, but she also liked boys to be decent human beings. Roger wasn’t exactly an asshole but he could sometimes do a damn good imitation of one.
Mrs. Grady took a couple more panting breaths and then stopped.
Annabelle followed the teacher’s eyes to the pentagram and noticed that there was a slight glow from the lines on the floor. “Gabriel, the pentagram is glowing.”
Gabriel looked at her in confusion, then Wilber said something in Langue d’oil, and Gabriel looked at the floor in shock. “Merde!” Gabriel said, then something else in Langue d’oil.
Annabelle looked at Wilber, who said, “He says it’s never done that before. Merlin says that there are demons lining up around the block. He also says that we’d better put them in ourselves, because the bit about them working for their owner only works if they are invoked, called. Not if they haunt something on their own.”
“No one is doing any sort of invoking till I get an explanation,” Mrs. Grady said.
“Epic fail!” Paul moaned again.
“It’s really important, Mrs. Grady,” Wilber said “Right now you own . . .” He stopped, then pulled out his phone and said, “Que galla souite terggin. . .” and more like that.
Finally, the phone spoke in the same language, but with Pucorl’s voice.
Wilber said in English, “You should be the one to tell her.”
Pucorl did, speaking through the phone that Wilber had put on speaker. He explained about the rules of ownership and when he was done, Mrs. Grady asked the question that had not occurred to any of the kids to ask.
“Why,” Mrs. Grady asked, “can’t you disobey the owner of the vessel you are in?”
“It’s part of the contract of summoning,” Pucorl said.
“So why not just break the contract? Humans do it all the time.”
Pucorl was silent, but Wilber spoke. “Merlin says the demons didn’t evolve like humans. They were created. The adherence to contracts was built into them. They have no more free will than the contract allows them.” Wilber grinned. “Which is probably why they are constantly looking for loopholes. Merlin says the summoning is an imposed contract, but it’s still a contract. I think what’s happening is they are hardwired to respond to summoning and to follow agreements to the letter.”
Mrs. Grady held a hand up to Wilber, palm out, and when he stopped talking she asked, “Who created them, Wilber?”
“They don’t know.”
“So not God?”
“Maybe.” Wilber shrugged. “They don’t know. They don’t have babies and they are very hard to kill. Merlin says it’s a lot easier to send them back to the netherworld than to kill them.”
“How many of them are there?”
“A lot. It may be the hundred million the Bible talks about, or it may be more.”
“Ten thousand times ten thousand,” Mrs. Grady muttered.
“They come in a lot of different types too,” Wilber said. “They vary in strength and in flexibility. Some of them are very powerful, but not very smart. Some are mostly just tools, some are powerful and smart, some love people and are anxious to help, some are okay with people, and some hate anything mortal.”
“What about Merlin? Is that what you call him?”
Wilber listened a minute, then laughed. “Merlin’s okay with people, but mostly he volunteered for something to do. The netherworld is apparently really, really boring.”
Mrs. Grady nodded, then, “Pucorl, translate precisely.” She turned to Gabriel and said, “Doctor, I expected rather more of you. Why were you a party to putting the children at such risk?”
Gabriel looked Mrs. Grady up and down. “First, Madame,” he said in Langue d’oil, which Pucorl translated without prompting, “they are not children, with the exception of Paul here. They are young adults and responsible for their own choices. Second, they were not put in danger. The items that the demons occupy are theirs, and what Pucorl has told us is confirmed by my own research.”
Since Pucorl was translating this, Mrs. Grady looked doubtful.
“That’s what he said,” Wilber confirmed.
“So Merlin says, anyway,” Mrs. Grady said. “The question, Wilber, is can we trust any of the demons? They are, after all, demons.”
“Actually, Mrs. Grady, I think that’s wrong. They are more like computer daemons. Semi-autonomous programs that help the system work.” Wilber shrugged. “Except magical. Not inherently evil or anything, not inherently good either. Just how they are made. Besides, without Merlin, I would be running out of juice for my implant soon and I don’t want to be deaf again. I really don’t want that.” Wilber stopped talking then and got an abstracted expression.
“He’s right, Mrs. Grady,” Bill said, joining the conversation. “And Ishmael confirms what Pucorl and Merlin say.” Bill held up his iPod. “We’re stuck here till we figure out a way to get home, and we’re going to need all the help we can get. You didn’t see what I saw at the murder scene, and even what I saw was after they cleaned up. The blood was up to the second story.”
“You’re my charges,” Mrs. Grady said. “I’m responsible for you.”
“Then you need to make sure we have what we need to survive,” Annabelle said. “And we need the demons. Even just to talk to the people here, we need the demons.”
They heard a clattering of steps on the stairs and Wilber tilted his head. He heard heavy breathing and found that he could make a good estimate of the number of people on the steps and how far they had to come before they got there. “They are only two floors down and it’s seven armored men.”
Gabriel looked at the pentagram and started to move to put the rugs back over it. But Wilber shook his head. “There isn’t time, Doctor.” It was true. They had already covered another flight of stairs, and the man in the lead was half a floor ahead of the rest.
Bertrand du Guesclin, followed by his men, panted as he moved up the stairs. Bertrand was in excellent condition for a man of fifty-two years, but he had lived an active life. He didn’t consider his age an excuse for slowing down.
Still, climbing up and down multiple flights of stairs in armor wasn’t something that he could do without effort. He rounded the next corner and saw the opened door of Delaflote’s office and continued up the last stretch, which was more in the way of a ladder than a flight of stairs. His men were coming along behind, but he wasn’t going to let them catch him. The tools of leadership were many and varied, but one of them was the need to be able to do all that you called on your men to do.
He panted in spite of his best efforts as he climbed into the room. Almost immediately, he spotted a half-covered pentagram of summoning glowing on the floor.
He had to take a couple of breaths before he could speak. “Well, Doctor,” he demanded, “do you have an explanation for this?”
Then he looked around the room. Aside from Doctor Delaflote, there were six of the strangers from the van, all of them looking very worried. And well they should be.
“What do you want to know, Constable du Guesclin?” Wilber asked in Langue d’oil as Merlin gave him the words. He could hear himself in a way he never could before, and he seemed to have greater control of his speech as well.
The constable said, “First, how is it that you now speak proper French?” and Wilber was only vaguely aware of Ishmael translating it for the rest. He understood clearly. And that was wrong, almost frightening. Merlin was placed into his external mic, not into the implant itself.
It’s magic, Merlin said for only Wilber’s ears. We’ll talk about it later.
Wilber nodded and explained to Bertrand about his deafness and his cochlear implant device, and about the demon who now occupied the external earpiece.
“And who gave you permission to summon a demon to your device?”
Wilber shrugged. “It’s my device. Who had the right to say I might not do so?”
The constable, whose face was still somewhat flushed but was becoming less so with every minute, laughed at that. “I like you, lad. You have courage. I have been known to ask the same sort of question on occasion. In this case, though, there are two men who have the authority to deny you such an act, your device or no. The king of France and the pope. I work for King Charles, so I know he didn’t give you permission. And since the pope is down near the coast, I beg leave to doubt he granted you his permission either.”
Again Wilber shrugged. “Neither of them told me I couldn’t.”
“Granted. But as the representative of the king, I tell you now. You and all your fellows will not, on pain of royal displeasure, call to your service or otherwise invite any creature or being from the netherworld into ours.”
The netherworld was the designation for that place where the demons came from. The details were sketchy and Wilber was going to want to have a talk with Merlin about that sketchiness sometime soon. But not right now, not with Bertrand du Guesclin watching.
“Look, Lord Constable,” Wilber said. “I know you’re nervous about it, but I believe Merlin. And if he’s right, leaving things as complex and flexible as modern computer hardware loose to be haunted is not a good idea at all. Please trust us on that.”
Pucorl spoke then, adding his confirmation of the risk.
Mrs. Grady, still untrusting, asked, “Pucorl, how great is the danger?”
Merlin said, again for Wilber’s ears alone, That was clever. Pucorl can’t lie to her.
“Not all that great,” Pucorl admitted, “but it’s an ongoing danger. It’s like not wearing a seatbelt or smoking. Mostly you get away with it, but the longer you do it, the worse your odds.”
“What did you say?” asked Bertrand du Guesclin. Pucorl had been speaking in modern English to answer Mrs. Grady’s question and the constable of France was looking suspicious.
“Explain it to him, Pucorl, honestly,” Mrs. Grady said in French.
Pucorl explained to du Guesclin in Langue d’oil which, for Wilber, was now perfectly clear and understandable.
“That’s not all,” Wilber said, also in Langue d’oil. “None of this should be possible. The working of magics is not supposed to work any more. The spell that called Pucorl wouldn’t have worked, save that something had ripped open the gates between this world and the netherworld. Merlin says that something has opened the gates as they have never been opened before. He doesn’t know what it is, but without it even the correct spells that Pucorl showed Gabriel wouldn’t have worked.”
“What about the murders?” du Guesclin asked, while Ishmael provided a running translation.
“Merlin doesn’t know. There are a number of possibilities,” Wilber said. “But the more important point is that whatever is doing this isn’t the only creature from that other place that can now come through.”
“I will need to speak to the king and we will no doubt need to discuss this with Cardinal de Dormans. In the meantime, I think that any further summonings must wait.”
“Everyone, I want your electronics turned off until we decide what to do,” Mrs. Grady said.
“I don’t think that will help,” said Ishmael. “The devices are still the same, even when they are turned off.”
“Do you know any way of preventing them from being occupied?” Mrs. Grady asked.
“You can make a circle of protection, but for it to work the protection circle will need to be enchanted. The nature of enchantment is to entice a spirit into the circle,” Pucorl said. “It’s the cornerstone of magic.”
Mrs. Grady looked over at Bertrand. “Well?”
“No, not even that,” Bertrand said. “Give us all some time to discover our response to this new situation.”
Wilber looked down at the glowing pentagram on Doctor Delaflote’s floor, and started to put things together. Why were the lines glowing? Was it enchanted? And if it was, did that mean that a demon had inhabited the pentagram?
He subvocalized the question to Merlin.
Yes, the demon said. A very small, weak earth spirit, attracted by the commotion, decided that the pentagram would be a nice place to be for a while. It’s a very simple spirit and in the pentagram it can watch what’s going on as other demons are attracted. It will also make the pentagram a bit more effective at containing a demon.
“She didn’t have to take our phones,” Annabelle muttered, kicking a weed that was growing up through the cobblestones.
Wilber agreed, but when Mrs. Grady went into Miss Grundy mode, there was no talking to her. “I’m more concerned with how this whole magic thing works. A question occurred to me when we were talking with the constable and I was too busy to think about it. Why would Pucorl look for loopholes if he doesn’t have free will?”
“I don’t get it,” Annabelle agreed. “So that he can get loose from the contract?”
“But why would he want to get loose if he didn’t have something like free will? It would never occur to him to try.”
The answer wasn’t entirely satisfying. “The physics of our world are different from yours. The natural laws that govern the netherworld are the laws of Plato and Aristotle, and much of them are the laws of magic. It was not just that we were made. The entirety of the netherworld is a made thing. It wasn’t intended to change, but to stay constant, with the only motion in it circular, so that everything would come back to the beginning.”
“What does that have to do with the contracts and free will?” Wilber asked.
“We are made up of the four elements and the element of fire is against all restriction. Most of demonkind have considerable fire in our nature, which must be balanced by earth. Water must be balanced by air and the . . .”
“Merlin,” Wilber complained, “you’re going off on a tangent.”
“In our universe things have an innate nature, but for anything to happen, you have to mix natures. To have any action at all, you have to have some free will. It’s unavoidable in a world like the netherworld, where water only flows downhill because it likes low places. The water chooses to flow downhill because that is its nature.”
Merlin was speaking not only to Wilber but to Pucorl, who had been repeating it to Annabelle on his speakers.
Now Annabelle spoke. “To me, it just sounds like magic.”
“Exactly,” Merlin said. “But it is no stranger to you than the notion that water is just a thing that is acted on by external forces is to us.”
Wilber felt a headache coming on. He was not expert on the writings of Plato or Aristotle, and he knew very little about magic. Nothing more than you would get out of comic books and movies. He was going to have to learn the physics of the netherworld, but he wasn’t going to be able to do that in one discussion. It was going to take time. On one thing, though, he needed to get some clarity. “Merlin, does a demon constrained by a contract have free will?”
“Does a human in a locked room have free will?” Merlin answered. “A demon can want. A demon can love or hate. The contract compels and restricts, but the compulsion is imposed on the demon, just as the locked cell is imposed on the human that resides in it.”