The next morning, she didn’t even glance at the book on her way out of the apartment, instead opting to grab her own breakfast on the way rather than chance waiting in the kitchen. The idea of using her newly … enhanced burner was there in the corner of her mind, but she wasn’t quite sure hot to deal with that just yet. Yet the summoning having been done had rather an effect on her. She felt lighter than she had in far longer than when she had just first seen the book. She felt lighter than she had in months. It was a great feeling.
Work went far better than it had in the previous few days. People still seemed a bit skittish, but they accepted the not-quite-a-lie that she’d been under the weather and suffering a horrible headache. She had been feeling a bit off, but it had been more of a tension than anything else. Honestly, she thought it was just from reading too much in the past few evenings without proper posture and lighting.
She made sure to apologize to the friend that she’d yelled at and her boss in particular. The first made to shrug it off, but Andi could see pretty clearly that she wasn’t thrilled with the explanation. She was going to have to do something more there.
Her boss took it somewhat better. She commiserated and made some vague comment about it being that time of month. It wasn’t–and hadn’t she read an article saying the whole idea was bunk anyways?–but she just nodded and smile along with her. Better a happy boss. She even let her retroactively take a sick day for the day before–even though she didn’t have the proof of a doctor’s visit that would normally have been required. It wasn’t that she’d been missed, it was more that any of her calls could fairly easily be routed to someone else if need be.
By the end of the day, she’d nearly forgotten about the book waiting for her at home. She thought from time to time about what else she wanted to try–there were just so many permutations of enhancements and abilities that she could give to the demons, she wouldn’t even know where to start. And those were just the ones hinted at in the first chapter on demonic enhancements. Laced throughout it, there were references to later chapters–still oddly hard to read she they referred to something she hadn’t uncovered yet–that went even more into depth on certain ideas. Enhancements layered on top of enhancements, entire behavioral routines that could make demons seem truly alive.
It was interesting the way that the book referred to them. She couldn’t quite tell if the book could even decide if it thought that the demons were alive or not, if they were living things or merely automatons that could be programed. There was something there about them lacking a ‘soul’; without which they didn’t have a true sense of agency or drive of their own. She wasn’t sure what to believe about that–souls fell into that same rough area of things she should have learned in Sunday school–but she guessed it sounded reasonable enough. Something more to read about later she supposed.
By the time she left work and was heading home, she was considering something complete different. For the most part, she was letting her mind wonder, just watching the cityscape flash past her. It was only when someone sat next to her that she came back to reality. The transition back was particularly jarring when the man next to her cleared his throat, obviously trying to get her attention. “Andromeda Anastas. You have been avoiding me.”
His voice was deep and had the rumbling sort of quality most men envy at some point in their lives. She was actually surprised when she turned to see the razor thin man that she had seen two–no, three–days before on the train. He was just too thin to have that sort of voice, it was disconcerting.
Immediately, she was sitting forward on her seat, ready to move at a moments notice.
He just watched her calmly, at the same time completely blocking her off from the aisle. She could feel that same tension she had the first time she’d seen him. Then it had been because she was trying to find him, but this time it was exactly the opposite. The effect was the same though.
“Who are you?” He didn’t answer, just continued to stare at her. “And what do you mean avoiding you? I’ve only seen you before once in my life. I don’t know you…”
He smiled slightly, but the motion fell just short of his eyes. The overall effect was disconcerting to say the least. More like a cat eying it’s prey than anything else.
“Oh, you know who I am. You just don’t know that you know.”
She shook her head and muttered under her breath. “I don’t have time for this crap.”
He answered as smoothly as if the comment had been directed right at him. “Well, you’re not wrong. You really don’t.”
“What…” Andi started, but just then the entire train shuddered. Her eyes jerked forward. Others up and down the car were doing the same.
Another shudder, this time with the terrible sound of metal screaming on metal.
What in the world was going on?
She turned back to the thin man with the deep voice, but he was gone.
“Figures,” she muttered. Her fight or flight reflex was in full swing now, telling her that she had to do something… anything.
But there was nothing that she could do.
Another screaming sound this time. Long and protracted this time, the entire train shook with the fury of it. She finally realized what was going on when she felt a pressure pushing on her, trying to shove her out of her seat.
Somewhat had triggered the train’s emergency brakes.
She’d only felt it once before on a terrible night several years before. So far as she’d ever been able to determine, someone had ducked around the guards and been clipped by the speeding train. As a matter of process, they had to stop, even though there was nothing that could be done at that point. She was sure that it had felt just like this, but just now she couldn’t imagine it had been quite so terrible.
There was a voice, over the intercom system that normally announced each station in turn. It wasn’t always trivial to understand them even under the best of circumstances, but with that horrible screeching… there was no chance.
The shaking was finally start6ing to subside, from a violent shake to more of a shudder. The feeling of being pushed out of her seat faded as well as the motion of the train slowed.
What was going on?
“Please remain calm…” the voice on the intercom said, likely repeating itself. “…and remain in your seats. We will make an announcement once we know more.”
Andi rolled her eyes. The train was stopped now. Like they were just going to sit her and wait.
Looking around the car though, the people for the most part seemed to be doing just that. In fact…
She looked back towards the back of the train then again towards the front. Something was wrong with the other passengers.
To a person, every one of them was staring forward. Everyone one of them had the exact same blank look on their face, their jaws slack, their eyes wide and glassy.
Something was very wrong.
A rough thud came from in front of her, from the middle of the car where the doors were. She had a picture in her head of something heavy being shoved against the closed door.
None of the other passengers on the train so much as moved a muscle. SO far as she could tell, not a one of them so much as blinked.
She lifted herself half out of her seat.
There was even more force behind the blow this time. She thought that she felt the train shift to the side slightly, but of course that was impossible. The amount of force it would take to shift a train car…
There was no mistaking it, the car really did shift that time. No more than an inch, but moving that much weight even an inch.
Andi stood the rest of the way and started to back down the aisle. Her only real line of thought was about getting to the next car back and getting off of the train. She would walk home if that was what it took.
For just a moment, the train rocked up on half it’s wheels, seeming to suspend itself in midair for a long moment before falling back to the track. the landing was a shuddering sort of blow. She didn’t know how the door could possibly have survived something like that.
She turned to run the other way and nearly shrieked. On turning, she found herself face to face with that same thin man. Well, it would have been face to face had he not towered over her. She wasn’t a paragon of height by any stretch of the imagination, but she didn’t often have to crane her neck quite so much to look up at someone.
“I did warn you,” he said, that same smile that didn’t reach his eyes clear on his face and in his voice.
She didn’t like that look any more now than she had then. “And a fat lot of good that did. Look at it.” She waved her hand vaguely back towards the doors. “Now if you don’t mind.”
He nodded slightly, in acknowledgment or otherwise she didn’t know. His words were a contrast though to his otherwise calm demeanor. “Not that way.”
She blinked at him. “Not what way? What?”
This time, the car lifted a good six inches off of the ground… and didn’t settle back. Something was holding it up. Something was holding an entire train car half off of the ground.
“You can’t go this way.”
“Like hell I can’t.” She tried to shove him out of the way…
And pitched forward for her effort. There was no resistance. Her hand passed right through the man and went right on going, dragging the rest of her along with it. She pitched forward, falling to her hands and knees in the middle of the aisle, just barely catching herself on the armrests on either side of the aisle.
One hand came down barely resting against a thirty something year old woman who was sitting in the aisle seat. She didn’t even bat an eyelid though at the intrusion, just continued staring blankly ahead.
“You’re going to have to fight it.”
That deep voice came from above and slightly behind her, roughly where the man would have still been standing had she not just fallen right through him.
She lifted herself up using just the strength in her arms, feeling the strain of doing so. She refused to turn around though, not until she was standing again.
There was the chance–however impossible–that the man was still occupying the same space that she now occupied, and she didn’t particularly want to deal with that. Not just yet.
Her hesitation was put to the test when, as she was standing, she felt the train shift yet again. Whatever was holding the train up was really putting a shoulder into it now. She could feel it gain another inch or two. If something didn’t change to, it was going to tip the entire car over.
Of course, that was likely its goal all along.
“How far did you get in the book?” the man asked. For the first time in the entire ride, there was a hint of emotion in his voice, a smidge of tension. He almost sounded… afraid.
“How did you know about the book?” Andi had regained her feet fully no and she turned to face him.
“No, really.” She cut him off. “How did you know?”
She thought that she knew the answer though.
He at least had the humility to look the least bit ashamed. “I put it in your bag.” She rolled her eyes at him. At the moment, it was all the response she could muster. “But now really isn’t the time…”
“You’re probably right…” She could feel the train shifting again, slowly this time. It felt more like a slow build of strength rather than the previous bursts, but that didn’t make it any more dangerous. At this rate she had minutes, maybe less. “What do you mean how far did I get?”
“Exactly what I said. What did it show you?”
She wondered at his choice of words, but there wasn’t time. “History, summoning, and a few enhancements.”
He nodded, as if he was expecting an answer along those lines. “And did you?” he asked. “Summon one?”
She nodded back at him. The situation had gone well beyond the surreal now, so far that her mind had stopped trying to make sense of it and was just going along for the ride.
“You didn’t by any chance make a weapon,” he asked, his voice oddly careful. “Did you?”
Andi felt herself flushing. A weapon. A demonic weapon. Of course she hadn’t made a weapon. That would have made far too much sense. It’s not like she expected to get attacked the very next day on the train.
She didn’t even have to say it, he must have seen the look in her eyes.
“Fine,” he said. “That’s fine.”
It didn’t sound fine.
“You’re going to have to run then.”
Hadn’t that been what she’d been trying to do?
“And I’m going to have to deal with our demon friend.”
Andi’s eyes widened.
He nodded, smiling once again. This time, for the first time, it was a real smile. It was every bit as terrifying as the alternative, but somehow charming at the same time. More terrifying, given the context.
“They can get pretty nasty. You should go.”
“But wait,” she said despite herself. “What are you going to do?”
He was changing before her eyes, stretching even taller and thinner. He had already been just on the edge of what could be considered normal; the changes pushed him over the edge to purely inhuman. As he stretched, his facial features elongated as well, growing sharper and more distinct all the while. His arms pulled out even further, stretching unnaturally to his knees with fingers nearly doubling in length. They looked sharp.
“Who… what are you?”
His voice had altered as well. Where it had been unnaturally deep for one so thin before, now it really rumbled. She could feel the vibrations in her bones, almost like being just outside of a rock concert.
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio…”
Andi just blinked at him.
“Shakespeare.” He grinned. His teeth were razor sharp.
Andi had known that. She just hadn’t expected him–it–to know the same.
“Now move.” He gestured with one hand, the motion quick then stopping abruptly. “You have no time left.”
As if to underscore his words, the train car suddenly dropped back to the ground. It hit with a terrible thud and Andi was tossed across the seats on one side of the car as it started to shift the other way. She landed on the laps of a young couple holding hands even as they stared blankly ahead. They didn’t even flinch.
Before she could so much as realize exactly what was going on with the situation, the train settled back to level. A screech unlike she had heard before sounded from the door in the middle of the train. Andi sat up, trying as best she could to avoid using the woman beneath her as leverage to stand back up. She glanced over the seat and saw what she thought were claws reaching through the door, raking upwards.
Only it was impossible. Claws just weren’t that big.
In just the moments that he’d been out of the view, the overly thin man had moved to place himself just inside of the door. He didn’t seem to have been affected at all by the trains sudden movements. His hands were claws themselves now, but Andi just didn’t know how he could hope to fight against whatever that… thing was outside of the door.
Not unless he had even more tricks up those sleeves. Those entirely too long sleeves.
Come to think of it, had the sleeves stretched with the rest of him? He was wearing a suit, yet despite his changes in shape and stature it looked just as tailored now as it ever had. Andi couldn’t think of a tailor on the face of the planet that would have taken on a job like that.
“Andromeda. Leave.” His voice was tense. So far as she could see, he wasn’t doing anything but just standing there even though he sounded far worse.
The claws in the door slipped up another inch, tearing into the metal and her eardrums equally as they did.
Leaving was starting to sound like a much better idea.
She still didn’t know who–or what–the strange man was but if he was going to buy her some time, she had better use it.
But what about the other people on the train?
As if the thin man could read her mind, he said “I will do my best to limit causalities. The demon is not after them.”
Andi didn’t like the word limit, not one bit, but even less she didn’t like how he left out exactly what the demon’s target was. She could only think of three options.
It was possible the demon was a mindless killing machine, hellbent on nothing more than destruction. It seemed strange, if that were the case, that it would attack the train rather than the countless neighborhoods they were surely passing through, but it was possible.
Another possibility was that the demon was after the thin man, whatever he was. She wasn’t thrilled of the idea that he would put an entire train full of innocents at risk, but it may not have been his choice. And even if that were the case, then why would she have been spared. If she ever had another chance, she was going to have to ask him that.
That was the third possibility though. That the demon wasn’t randomly attacking the train–that it had been aimed. And that the demon wasn’t after the thin man.
The third possibility was that it was after her.
What had she gotten herself into?
She ran. The thin man yelled at her once more, with a deep bass rumble that seemed to shake the train as much as the claws in the door did.
This time, she ran.
She barely even got a glimpse of the thing that had been terrorizing the train. There was a black mass easily the size of a Volkswagen Beetle with long thin tendrils spreading along the train in all directions. Many were tipped with wicked sharp claws, but just as many had openings hinged with razor sharp teeth or milky white globules that could have been eyes. She couldn’t really picture it in her mind, even as she was still watching it. Once she’d gone, even those brief memories were muddled, blurring.
She didn’t see what the thin man did. He did seem to be keeping his word though. Any time a tentacle made its way through the exterior of the car she had been in, it jerked back mere moments later, often times shorter than it had been. The worst part of all was how silent it was. It didn’t cry out. It just kept working, hell bent on getting into that car.
One of the first things that she noticed when she got out of the next car back was that there were no sirens. Despite that fact that the train was stopped in the middle of the of the tracks and despite the fact that there had to be dozens if not hundreds of people blocked by it, no emergency vehicles had been dispatched to help. She could have blamed it on local traffic, but she knew that there was a fire station just beside the tracks not a mile down the road. Surely they could have gotten here.
It felt wrong somehow to be running, but she didn’t have another choice. She just couldn’t square off against something like that. Not if it could freeze and suppress hundreds or even thousands of people in the area.
She just didn’t have a choice.
At least not yet…
The first thing she did when she got home was turn her television to the local news network. Surely, even if the demon had been powerful enough to stun everyone on the train there would have to have been further reaching effects. What about other trains? It hadn’t been stopped that long, but even a short delay would have a ripple effect on the rest of the network.
Yet there didn’t seem to be anything. Not yet.
It was strange, but given everything else she had seen in the past few days it seemed downright normal. Likely just more evidence of demonic activity.
That was more disconcerting. She was just warming to the idea that demons were at all possible, but she still hadn’t really gotten an idea for just what was possible. She had made an automatic heating element for her stove, for crying out loud. And here there seemed to be a demon that could blanked large parts of a city.
She briefly considered the idea that it was more than one demon, but she didn’t know if that made it better or worse. Either individual demons could be powerful enough to boggle the imagination or it was possible for rather a lot of them to work together in concert. Either was disconcerting.
She needed to learn. She needed to learn quickly.
This time she set the book on the dining room table. She knew that she was in for a long night’s reading–and this time she wanted to take notes. She set out a notebook and flipped the cover open.
“I need to know everything,” she said. She was starting to think that the book was more than met the eye. It had responded to her needs before–or at least how it had interpreted her needs–so perhaps it would do so again.
The book didn’t say a thing.
“Come on.” A part of her didn’t quite believe that she was pleading with an inanimate object. “I need to know.” The rest of her thought that perhaps the book wasn’t quite so inanimate as it appeared.
“At the very least, I need to know more. What are the limits? What can a demon even do?”
She hesitated before voicing her final question.
“And how can I fight them?”
The book began to change.
It was four in the morning before she finally finished. At the very least, the book stopped adding additional content. She didn’t know if it really was done–the book had a mind of its own, she was sure of that now–but she did know that it wasn’t giving her more.
It was probably for the best. She hadn’t pulled an all-nighter since the last year of her undergraduate days and even then she didn’t generally have to go to work the next day. She could only hope that yesterday’s previous positive mood would hold true.
She kept the news on throughout the night, although she didn’t pay it that much direct attention. In then end, it didn’t seem to matter anyways. The closest they got to mentioning that something had even happened was a short story about a delay on the train she had been on. They didn’t go into any detail beyond that though, only saying that the train had been delayed but that a maintenance crew had gotten it running again no more than ten minutes after she’d left.
Perhaps the thin man had prevailed. Perhaps she had been the target all along and the thing had realized that she was no longer there. Either way, it seemed that no one had been harmed, even if no one could remember it.
It was disconcerting to say the least, but it was better than the alternative.
On the flip side though, she had an idea.
The details were still a little sketchy, but she was starting to get the hang of this summoning thing. She saw how the main summoning circle could be enhanced with a wide variety of additional sygils. Those in turn could be enhanced with further circles on and again. Each time, the changes were more subtle in scale, but the combinations could be overwhelming.
Although the book hadn’t come right out and said it, she was beginning to get the idea that the only limit on a demon was the creator’s knowledge of the summoning circles, their creativity in the combinations, and then finally the time and effort that went into creating it. She hadn’t gone through the trouble of trying to determine what it would take to make the thing that had attacked the train–not to mention that she either knew exactly what its capabilities were nor half of the symbols she would have needed to build them–but even what she knew would take her months. Maybe years.
Someone really didn’t like her. That much was clear.
Her idea had come from what the man on the train had said. When he had asked if she’d made a weapon, she’d thought for a moment that he was kidding.
Then she’d seen that thing outside the train.
A weapon was exactly what she was going to make.
Work was hard.
She had known it was going to be, on less than two hours of sleep there really wasn’t any other choice. Worse yet, she didn’t have quite the positive vibe going that she’d been counting on. Caffeine helped, but it only went so far.
If her coworkers noticed, they didn’t say anything. She thought that perhaps they were still a little on edge after her behavior a few days before. She was going to have to work on that. Eventually.
After work, it was a matter of picking up the supplies for the next day’s summoning. It was going to be a big one, but she had the weekend. There were some advantages to not having much of a scheduled social life–apparently summoning demons was one of them.