The Demons of Constantinople – Snippet 14

The Demons of Constantinople – Snippet 14

Wilber shrugged his thanks.

“I am sure something can be arranged,” Karl said. “Surely we can find an appropriate tree.”

“If –” Wilber held up a finger. “– Asuma wishes to stay, we’ll do what we can to facilitate. But we need to discuss the technicalities among ourselves. So please excuse us.”

“Couldn’t I listen?” Karl asked. “I’ll be quiet as a mouse, I promise.”

Leona stuck out a small pink tongue and ran it around her mouth.

“After we have had some time to consider, Professor,” Wilber insisted.

***

As soon as Karl was gone, Wilber turned to Merlin. “Merlin, contact Pucorl and Roger, please. No, first contact Asuma and see if she’s truly interested in Coach’s ridiculous scheme.”

“I already have,” Merlin said, then continued. “Well, I forwarded Coach’s contact to her through Pucorl and, as it happens, if we can do it in a useful and safe way, she is interested.”

“In that case, we need to bring Roger in on this.”

“Why Roger?” Merlin asked. “I like the lad well enough, but he’s hardly a magical scholar?”

“Themis,” Wilber said. “Remember who did the pentagrams that connect your place to Pucorl’s lands. And, for that matter, the link between Pucorl’s lands and Themis’. If Asuma wants to stay here, we want a good, solid link between her tree here and Pucorl’s lands.”

As it happened, Roger was busy, so Leona took the opportunity to bring up her questions about demons eating demons. “I was talking to the babbling brook that runs between Pucorl’s garage and the dryad’s grove, and it said it was fine with people drinking it.”

“Did it ask you to drink?” Wilber asked.

“Yes. The water was good.”

Wilber sighed. If the veil was still in place, drinking or eating anything in the netherworld would keep you there until it was all out of your system. Possibly the rest of your life. But clearly that wasn’t working in this case. That was even a bit true of the food in Pucorl’s garage, even though the base food was brought in from the natural world. It had its form modified by the magic of the netherworld, which made the effect much less than eating or drinking something that was wholly of the netherworld, like a babbling brook. And Leona was a cat.

Wilber stopped. Cats . . . the legends and stories about cats abounded. Cats having nine lives, cats being able to walk between this world and the next, cats being independent and not following the rules. Did the beliefs about cats affect how a real, natural cat interacted with the netherworld?

“What’s wrong with drinking the water?” Leona asked in worried cat.

“Apparently nothing, at least for a cat,” Wilber said. “Merlin, are cats immune to the whole eating thing?”

“It appears that this one is,” Merlin said. “I can’t be sure whether it is the nature of cats or the damage to the veils. But, for whatever reason, Leona appears to be able to eat demonic fare with no ill effect.”

“So I guess you’re fine, Leona. What was your question about demons eating demons?”

“It’s not that important,” Leona said, and Wilber was convinced that she was hiding something.

Then Merlin said, “I have Roger on the line,” and they started talking about how Asuma might be able to stay here.

***

Leona slipped out as they discussed ways and means. “Well, Coach, what do you think? I can eat a demon.”

“Yes, you can,” Coach agreed. “And I can’t think of a demon more deserving of your appetite than Carlos.” Coach was around Leona’s neck not only for transport, but for protection. In his watch form, the only one he could assume in the natural world, he was vulnerable to being picked up by a crow and dropped in a privy hole. Which Carlos had done.

“The trick is going to be to catch him,” Leona said. “That will-o’-the-wisp has the power to disappear.”

“You will need to do it in a pentagram.”

“Will that help?”

“It will keep Carlos from simply disappearing. We need Catvia’s help.”

Coach contacted Asuma, and Asuma contacted Catvia, and the issue of how they were going to get someone to create a pentagram for the trick was brought up.

“No. I don’t want Kitten involved in this,” Catvia said. “The mortals aren’t going to be all that happy, especially Chevalier Charles de Long. Whatever his other faults, Carlos is an excellent scout.”

“You don’t think we should do it?” Coach asked, but by his tone he wasn’t going to be swayed, even if Catvia disapproved.

“Not at all. I think it’s important for the demons who accompany us to know who is who in the zoo.”

Coach laughed.

Location: Dryad’s Grove, Pucorl’s Lands

Time: 4:55 PM, September 23, 1372

Roger lifted the sword from his back and placed its tip into the rich soil around Asuma’s tree. He felt the presence of Themis, released his grip on the hilt, stepped away, and she was there. Glowing with golden light in a gown of green, she began to trace an intricate dance of tunes and lines around the tree. The “pentagram” did have points, but not five. There were nine hundred and ninety-nine of them, enough so that it looked almost like a circle. As she was finishing, Leona the cat leapt into the pentagram, and curled up next to the tree. She scratched her ear and the collar that was Coach came loose and slipped off her neck onto the soil.

Themis looked at the cat and her lips twitched in an almost smile. She turned to Roger and said, “You will need to take me to the tree in Vienna.”

He stepped up and took the hilt of her sword as she passed it to him, disappearing as its hilt touched his hand.

Location: University of Vienna

The campus of the University of Vienna was still a bit amorphous at this time.

Luckily, since on this day Albert III expanded it to include a small grove of trees right next to the Danube. That grove included a small ash tree.

Joe Kraken used his tentacles to pull and push his bow up to the shore, then let down the ramp so that Pucorl could drive off onto dry land. Roger climbed out with the sword in hand, to see Albert III, Archduke of Austria and his brother, Leopold, also Archduke of Austria, standing there.

Albert looked pleased and interested, Leopold looked resentful. Roger thought of the evening before when Tiphaine had run horoscopes for the royal family using Jennifer’s computer and a spreadsheet. Roger shook his head. He still wasn’t convinced that astrology worked, but he wasn’t going to argue with Themis, who had helped with the astrology calculations. Themis was a god. All the titans of ancient legends were. She didn’t claim to be all-knowing, but she could look into a soul easily, and that included being able to examine Wilber to learn programming and Jennifer to learn the use of spreadsheets. And she knew the orbits of the planets to the microsecond, so Tiphaine’s astrology file was spot on accurate. Plug in the date, time, and location of birth, and out poured all the signs and degrees.

He watched the point of Themis’ sword as it traced intricate patterns in the grass around the tree, and thought about Elisabeth of Bohemia’s horoscope. It predicted she had become pregnant and if the pregnancy wasn’t handled properly she would miscarry and die next year. Raphico confirmed that she was pregnant, but only barely. No more than two weeks. The angel in a phone also determined that the placental bond was not solid and a miscarriage was likely. After consulting with the principles, Raphico fixed the issue so that Elisabeth of Bohemia’s future was changed. Maybe.

Themis was finished with the pentagram now. She made a gesture and the pentagram started to glow. The glow faded, and Asuma in her anime form appeared in the grove of her tree for all to see.

“She still won’t be able to manifest outside the pentagram, save in dreams,” Themis said as she walked over and handed her sword back to Roger.

***

In the grass around Asuma’s tree, Coach appeared in sports watch form. He tried to transform into his faun form, but failed and Carlos cawed a sneering laugh. Carlos looked around. No one else seemed to notice Coach’s difficulty.

Carlos leapt from Charles de Long’s shoulder and in a fast glide, he stooped and grabbed up the watchband with his talons. He flapped his wings to clear the grove, but they were returned to the netherworld and the pentagram around the tree hardened to a wall of force that might as well have been made of iron.

Coach became a faun and reached for Carlos, who let go and flapped away. Carlos’ flapping took him under one of the limbs of Asuma’s tree.

And from that limb, Leona leapt, catching the crow in flight.

Landing on the ground, Leona bit down hard, breaking the crow’s neck. It died and the will-o’-the-wisp tried to escape the body, but it was restrained by the pentagram and by Leona’s will. For she, with malice aforethought, had bit not only the crow but the will-o’-the-wisp that inhabited it.

Over the next few minutes, Leona ate the crow from beak to tail feathers. And as she did she ate the will-o’-the-wisp as well.

She didn’t know exactly what effect it would have. All she really knew was that among demon kind, eating a demon gave you its powers. The power she was after was the ability to appear and disappear.

She got that.

But she got more, for the crow was part of her meal as well, and it was soaked and marinated in the will-o’-the-wisp’s magic.

 

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