La Petite Courtyard, University of Paris
February 10, 1372
Wilber sat on the stone bench and used his phone to send Annabelle a text. He wasn’t sure how much the haunted van could hear, but he didn’t think Albert van Demon would be able to intercept a text between his phone and Annabelle’s. He wasn’t entirely sure of that, so what he texted was “I think he’s a Joanie.” Joanie was a girl at the school who was a pathological liar. She lied even when the truth would keep her out of trouble. Part of his feeling was just because Wilber was good at interpreting phrasing and catching inconsistencies. Part of it was the fact that he was thinking of the demon as a demon, even if it had tried to make the whole thing into a joke. Demons were fallen angels, angels who had followed the devil into darkness in defiance of God. Wilber didn’t believe in God. At least, he hadn’t three days ago in the twenty-first century. Now he wasn’t so sure.
Annabelle texted back. “Alb???”
Wilber sent “T” for true.
That was harder to explain. Partly it was some of the stuff that the French doctor guy had said. It had been in Middle French and hard to follow, but everything had been hard to follow for Wilber his whole life. He had a cochlear implant which helped, and had years of practice guessing the meaning from partial information, expression, lip reading and body language. The doctor guy had been confused, and it wasn’t just that the van arrived instead of a cat or whatever he was expecting.
“Don’t know. Something off.”
“You know,” Annabelle said aloud, “I’ve never worked on a car that could tell me what it wanted before. I mean like, does it want a new video system or does it want its shocks adjusted.”
“What do you think it wants?” Wilber asked, confused by the sudden change. He looked at Annabelle and her posture was careful. This was a ploy of some sort, he was almost sure of it. Wilber looked around, there was a guard at the door to their rooms and another at the entryway to the courtyard. There was a dog scratching itself over by the sheds, but no one close.
Annabelle shrugged. “What do you want, van?”
That was a very interesting question, and not one that Albert was expecting. Albert had been asked all manner of questions when he had been summoned in the past, but not that one. Every time he had been called upon by a mortal, the assumption had always been that what he wanted was to be released so that he could rampage here in the mortal realm or return to the netherworld, whether the summoner thought of the netherworld as hel, hell, hades, underhill, the dream time, yomi, diyu, bashnobe, or any of the myriad of other spirit realms.
Albert had never considered the possibility of upgrades. They were not a part of the netherworld or fourteenth-century France. Albert’s cameras looked out at a world both familiar and strange. The clouds were clear in his cameras, clearer than they ever were before. The dog, the guards, the buildings, all clear in megapixel images. Upgrades were a greater advantage to a being of his sort than they would be for a mortal. For demon kind, character followed function. A demon placed in a sword could make the sword strike true or, if placed as a curse, make the sword slip at the crucial moment. A demon put in a horn could make that horn play rousing or terrifying music, but couldn’t make it into a sword that would cut. Likewise, a demon placed in a cat would be fairly independent, while one placed in a dog would tend to be loyal.
Albert spent six millennia as a stone ax before recorded history. It was incredibly boring. But in this body, he could talk and listen, move, shine his lights out at the world, hear radio waves. And he knew—didn’t know how he knew, but knew—that the van was upgraded several times before he inhabited it.
While Albert was considering the new thought of upgrades, Annabelle was apparently doing the same, because she said, “Even when they open up the wall to let you out, you’re too big for a lot of Paris streets. And if we leave Paris, there aren’t any good roads.” She looked around the courtyard and added, “Even the courtyard isn’t what I’d call smooth.”
“The van is four wheel drive,” Wilber said.
“That’ll help,” Annabelle said, “but not enough. I’m afraid Albert here is going to be limited to really good roads unless we can make some upgrades.”
Suddenly Albert felt his glorious new body was inadequate. “A cat or a dog can lift its feet,” he complained. “Why can’t I?”
“Because in spite of the fact that you have four wheel drive, you weren’t really designed for off road. In the future, there will be good roads all over the place. The best roads around here are narrow dirt paths by our home’s standards.”
Albert could hear the pain in Annabelle’s voice, even though she was trying to hide it. He felt bad about that. The function of this van was to take its passengers where they wanted to go in comfort, and Annabelle clearly wanted to go home. He almost blurted out that he was sorry he couldn’t take them home, but he held his speaker.
Albert didn’t trust mortals. He mostly didn’t trust immortals either. Keeping as much back as he was allowed was a habit after all this time. Instead he asked, “Could you upgrade my suspension?”
“Maybe,” Annabelle said, even as Wilber was shaking his head. The boy stopped shaking his head and looked at the girl as she continued. “It depends on how your connection with the physical van works. If I knew that I might be able to figure out a way to protect your tires, or even let you lift your wheels.”
Albert was suspicious, but he knew that Annabelle was the one who took care of the van. Vans don’t have memory, but Albert was a demon, a creature of magic, and magic worked for him in ways he didn’t understand. He remembered her hands on his engine, changing his oil, and greasing his differential. Yes, Annabelle took care of him. Who knew what she might be able to do? He told her how it worked. She and Wilber asked questions.
In the course of the conversation, the basic effect of enchanting an item or cursing an item—both of which were accomplished by summoning a demon into the item—were explained.
“Maybe,” Wilber observed, “those tribal chieftains with the gold inlaid wooden keyboards and carved wooden shotguns with wooden bullets had a point. Or at least were acting on old stories that at some point in the past were accurate.” He looked at Albert. “If we were to have an electric arc furnace built or mocked up, and summoned a demon to occupy it, would it work to make good steel?”
“I’m not sure,” Albert said. “I understand magic, but not electric arc furnaces. The power of similarity might apply, like it was a voodoo doll of an electric arc furnace. But that might just mean that chopping it up would make a real one break.”
“This is going to take some experimentation,” Annabelle said. “We will need to summon some demons to see what works. What do we need to do that?”
Albert forgot that he had said he wasn’t allowed to say and told her how to do it. Gabriel Delaflote had gotten most of it right, but he hadn’t known that the container needed to be placed in the center of the pentagram.
It was while they were discussing the minutiae of demon summoning that Bill arrived. “I’ll offer up my Ipod if you can find a demon who speaks Middle French.”
“Your phone would be better, especially if you want to be able to answer them,” said Wilber.
“Hey, wait a minute,” Albert said. This was all going too fast. He wasn’t used to dealing with people of the twenty-first century, who expected to be able to look anything up on the internet in an instant.
“If we are going to figure out a way of upgrading your suspension so that we can let you shift your wheels,” Annabelle said, “we are going to have to do some experimenting. And if Bill is willing to sacrifice his Ipod, I think it’s a good idea.”
“No, Albert is right,” Wilber said. “We have forgotten something important.”
“What?” Annabelle asked.
“What if the demons don’t want to come?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, did Albert want to be pulled here?”
“No,” Albert said. “But I’m here now and I want my upgrades.”
“So the spell you gave us will pull in a demon, willing or not?”
“Why should we care?” Bill asked.
“Look, I’ve been shoved into my locker too many times to want to be a party to doing it to someone else. Albert, is there a way that we can cast the spell so that only a demon who is willing will get called?”
Albert stopped and thought. There were, in fact, variations that did just that. But it was exceedingly rare that they would ever be used, save with a mortal who was trying to call a demon lord or a demigod. Either that, or it could be some hedge witch who didn’t know the protections. “I have told you how to be the master of demons, and you would be a supplicant instead?”
“No. I just want a demon who will help us because it wants to, not because we are forcing it.”
“It doesn’t mean we can’t have restrictions on it, so it doesn’t go crazy,” Annabelle said.
“Think about it, Bill. Do you want a demon in your Ipod who is trying to escape all the time? Or one that wants to help?” Wilber waved his arms.
“Why would they want to help?” Bill asked. “No, I mean it. Albert, why would a demon willingly come and live in my Ipod to help me listen to this freaking ancient-ass French? You haven’t seen the world outside the courtyard, guys. It’s narrow dirt and rock roads with open sewers down the middle. No glass in the windows unless you’re rich, and even then it’s crappy green glass, mostly in little pieces. And it stinks. Really bad.”
“We did notice that part,” Annabelle said.
Bill shook his head. “No. You just think you have. It’s worse near the Seine.”
Albert considered Bill’s question, but it didn’t take him long to think of a reason. “Because eternity is boring, and this is something to do. Also, your Ipod is like the van? Besides, an Ipod doesn’t have a nose. Not even the emissions sensors I have.”
Bill reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out the small digital music player. It was a top of the line product, and though it didn’t have as much memory or processing power as the array of chips in Albert van Demon, it had a lot. It also had games that would keep a demon occupied and entertained for centuries.
Albert examined it with his cameras and with magic. Yes, there were any number of demons who would be quite happy to move from the netherworld to live for a few centuries in the Ipod and serve its owner. “If you put that in the pentagram as bait, you will catch a demon. And a willing one, at that.”
All of a sudden Albert van Demon was much more pleased with his situation. Yes, he had been dragged from his hole in the netherworld, but he was here now, with cameras and wheels and GPS. “Wait a minute. My GPS system isn’t getting any signal.”
“No satellites in the fourteenth century,” Wilber said. “Nothing we can do about that. Not unless you can launch a satellite. What I want to know now is, can you talk to your demon friends and tell them what we are offering?”
Albert didn’t say that he didn’t have any demon friends. Demons were generally too busy looking out for themselves to have friends. But Wilber didn’t need to know that. Instead Albert said, “If you put the Ipod in the pentagram, they will know what it is and what it can do.”
“I got that,” Wilber said, standing up and starting to pace. “What I was asking was if you could talk to others like you back where you come from. If maybe you had a buddy or something who you might like to let know about this, so he can be in place when we light up the spell.”
Albert thought about it, and realized that he really didn’t have anyone like that. It made him rather sad.
“You do realize we are going to have to tell Delaflote about this,” Annabelle said, smiling.
“Wait! This was just between us,” Albert said.
“He’s the one with the chicken blood and enchanted chalk.”
“That’s not important. Anything that will mark the ground will work. It’s the patterns, not the—” Albert started, then stopped. That wasn’t true, and it was better to be caught in a mistake than a lie. The patterns controlled the spell, but the spell did need enchantment. Holy water, blood, rosemary picked at the dark of the moon and ground into a paste in a stone mortar with an ashwood pestle. There were all sorts of substitutions, but you did need a certain class of materials, and what sort of magical creature you got depended on which materials you used. Albert was experienced as a demon of knowledge, and in his new body with its computer brain, he was able to access his knowledge in a clearer way than he was used to. “Oh, darn! You’re right.”
“Oh, darn?” Bill asked, incredulously. “A demon saying darn instead of damn?”
“You need to watch your language too, Bill Howe. For in the here and now, the words you use carry a weight and a power that is much greater than it ever was in your world. Tossing around unspecified curses like that could curse you or your companions. And if it carries a risk for you, how much more for me, who is a creature of the magic world, where the words are weapons as well as tools?”
“Okay, okay. What the he— Hildebrand. I’ll watch my mouth. But can you call one of your buds to the Ipod, and if you call one, do we still need the pentagram and all the curlicues?”
“Yes, you do,” Albert said. “Calling a demon without wards is dangerous. Not all demons are friendly, and if you call one without wards it could decide that it would rather occupy you than the device. If that happened, you would have no control over it. None at all.”
“Say, was anyone taking ancient mythology or anything like that as an elective?” Bill asked.
“I don’t think so. We could ask Mrs. Grady,” Wilber said.
Albert cringed. The brake lights flickered without Albert’s conscious intent. Amelia Grady held the key, literally, to controlling him. He didn’t want her to know that. And he had just let slip a big clue to how controlling demons worked. In the meantime, he called to an old acquaintance of his and pointed out the advantages of the Ipod. After all, better a sort of friend than an out-and-out enemy.
The mortal realm was both infinitely far and right next to the spirit realm. He was almost entirely in the mortal realm at the moment, but he still had a connection to his home. It was weak and tenuous and he couldn’t tell very much from it, but the connection was there. Part of the law of contagion, which stated that whenever two things touch they remain connected. Albert had been touching that bit of the netherworld since dinosaurs ruled the mortal realms, and because of that he was touching it now. But the distance was great, if the connection was well-worn. Which made it hard to whisper in a friend’s ear without the neighbors hearing.