It turned out that the more powerful the demon was you were trying to summon, the more complicated the summoning became. This was going to take hours of prep work and the better part of half an hour just to do the summoning. Honestly, she would have liked to take longer, but she didn’t know that she would be able to. The new chapters of the book had laid out what she’d expected–the more you tried to add to a summoning, the less time you had to do it in. That seemed to set a hard limit on just what could be done, but it was hard to calculate. Perhaps there were exceptions.
The second problem was the expense. The woman at the shop had given her a deal on her initial supplies. She’d looked them up on her computer at lunch the next day, and she’d gotten one heck of a deal. This time around she wasn’t likely to be so lucky–even if she could get some of the things.
A golden ring that had been worn to a wedding that ended in tragedy? Perhaps she could find one at a pawn shop, but there was a reason that she wasn’t married just yet.
A human skull, no more than a decade dead? She had a few acquaintances at the local medical school that could possibly get hold of some anatomy supplies, but that was going to take a few markers to call in.
Live eels? That actually seemed worse than the previous two. She was going to have to kill something to make this work? There was a possibility that the eels would make it through the process, but that would mean that she had a pair of live eels on her hands to deal with after that.
Summoning a demon was complicated.
Who would have thought.
She tracked down most of the supplies on Friday evening. She got a few strange looks and more than a few intense bills. The golden ring turned out to be easy–the woman at the antique store shared a knowing look with her that Andi didn’t follow at all and knocked a quarter off the price.
The eels were less so. It turned out there weren’t so many places even in a city like this that sold live eels. She was going to have to check out a store the next morning. If it didn’t work out, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. She already thought that she could get around that particular restriction, it was just going to make the timing a bit tighter than she wanted. It was nice to think that there was more than one way to do things.
The rest she was going to have to get in the morning. It was going to be a long day.
knock knock knock
Waking up to a solid knock on the door this early in the morning was never a way that Andi wanted to take it. The sun was barely even coming in through her windows yet, so despite the month it had to be early.
She swore half silently under her breath, but rolled out from under her covers anyways. With that volume, they weren’t likely knew she was home–who wouldn’t be at that hour–and weren’t going to go away without talking to her.
knock knock knock
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” she yelled. Her voice cracked, but she thought the point came through well enough.
When she stumbled to the door, she didn’t even bother to look through the peephole, she just swung it open.
When she saw her friend Jenny standing there in tennis shoes and shorts, she inwardly groaned.
“Crap. Saturday.” Her and Jenny ran on Saturdays. They had for years, ever since she’d first moved out to the coast and they’d gone to university together.
How could she have forgotten?
Honestly, it wasn’t that surprising. With a week like she’d been having the last few days, she could have forgotten just about anything.
“You didn’t forget, did you?” Jenny said, a smile playing at the corner of her lips. She full well knew that Andi had. But there was nothing on the face of the Earth that could get Jenny down. It was probably why she had gotten into public service in the first place–although she would have been good in customer service like Andi just as well.
She briefly considered asking for a rain check, but Jenny wouldn’t stop until she had an answer. An answer that Andi wasn’t sure she wanted to give–not just yet. “Just give me a second. I’ll get changed.”
She had wanted Jenny to wait outside, but she couldn’t very well ask her to do so. Again, not something she was looking forward to.
“Having a party?” Jenny asked. She was eying the pile of shopping bags that Andi had left on the table. She had half a dozen different styles, some of the bag looks very… non-standard indeed. Ever since the ban on plastic shopping bags in the city, stores had gotten increasingly more… interesting when it came to packing supplies.
It hadn’t even taken her thirty seconds to figure out that something was up.
“It’s a long story,” Andi said.
Jenny raised an eyebrow. Andi couldn’t stop her, she was already picking through the first bag. “This looks like it’s going to be one heck of a story…” she said, holding up a faintly glittering candle fashioned for some reason in the shape of a donuts, three wicks evenly spaced around its perimeter.
“A really long story,” Andi said. She was distracted. She had just realized that the book was sitting out on her coffee table, looking rather impressively conspicuous. For better or for worse, Jenny seemed rather more interested for in looking through her supplies. For the moment at least. “I’ll just go get changed.”
Jenny nodded, sounding distracted. Andi couldn’t remember what in particular was in which bag, but it seemed prudent to hurry no matter the case.
She headed off to the bedroom to get changed, as she did stopping by the coffee table and hoisting the book as subtly as she could. She just hoped that Jenny was distracted enough.
When she got back out, Jenny was no longer looking through the bags. She was watching Andi with a curious expression on her face, but didn’t say anything while she put on her shoes. “Ready?” was her only word once she obviously was.
Andi only nodded.
She lasted a mile.
Jenny had a way about her. Maybe her petite build and short stature made her feel less threatening–although anyone that spent any length of time with her would know that wasn’t a perfectly accurate assessment. Perhaps it was her way of sticking to a topic like and never letting go, knowing that eventually she would get an answer.
Over the next mile, Andi told her everything.
An abridged version of course, given that they were running and she couldn’t quite get as much air for talking as she was used to. And they didn’t have overly much time to begin with. Their usual run was five kilometers and it had taken a third of that just to get her to stop talking.
The next third was spent convincing Jenny that she hadn’t lost her mind. She wasn’t entirely sure of that herself, but she was well past the point where she had to either assume that the world was more interesting than she thought or go mad.
The last third–plus a bit more; Jenny turned seemingly on purpose to add another ten minutes to their run–was spent in the details.
To Andi’s surprise, Jenny seemed to agree with her. Summoning another demon seemed like the thing to do. She didn’t quite agree with the extent than Andi was planning–she seemed certain that things were going to go wrong, but that being said didn’t seem as worried as she should have been. Part of her thought that it was more of a matter of proof. She wanted to see a summoning with her own two eyes.
Andi couldn’t blame her. And honestly, it felt nice.
At least if she were going mad, it would be in good company.
“No way,” Jenny said.
“Yes, way,” Andi responded. She couldn’t help but smile though. She would have had the exact same reaction, but with Jenny here to have it for her, it was all the easier.
Although on the other hand, Andi still wasn’t sure about this part. She didn’t want to have to kill something just so that she could finish her summoning.
Especially when she was standing in a small shop on a back street that she didn’t think she’d ever be able to find again without GPS–perhaps even with it–staring at a bubbling tank of water taller than she was. The eels didn’t look quite real. In theory, she knew full well what an eel was, but in practice they were just creepy.
Still, she couldn’t just murder them.
“Didn’t you say there was another option?” Jenny asked.
Andi was glad that she’d brought her along. She was catching onto this whole summoning thing even more quickly than Andi herself had.
“Yeah, but it’s going to be tight on time.”
“You’d mentioned that,” Jenny said, thoughtfully. “But that was before.”
“Before you had me.” She smiled. “Does your book say anything about two people working together to do a summoning?”
It clicked into place. There wasn’t a limit at all based on the time of the summoning. Not if you could have more than one person participating. In parallel, the theoretical limits of a summoning were monumental. She couldn’t even imagine how many of the enhancements she could pack together, how many times each could be layered on.
It would make the demon she was contemplating summoning look like child’s play.
“That’s…” she said.
“That’s actually not a terrible idea.”
Jenny smiled and turned on her heel. “Let’s get out of here then.”
Andi was only too happy to agree.
By mid afternoon, they had all of the supplies, including the replacements for the eels. She found it ironic that the replacement spell actually contained soy beans. It was as if even the ancient seeming book on summoning demons was getting with the times of the city all around them.
Still, they were going to do it.
Two hours later, they had reworked the summoning so that they could do it in parallel. Jenny was a quick study and had taken to reading the book while Andi worked, answering questions for her as she needed. She was learning quickly and the book seemed to be adapting more quickly to her than it had to Andi. At least, the same chapters had revealed themselves. At first, she had thought that they might vanish again and they’d have to go through the whole situation all over again, but that didn’t seem to be the case.
In the end, Andi would start the summoning. Once the main circle was up, they would alternate, each forming a circle on opposite sides and speaking the words that needed to be said in turn. While Andi spoke, Jenny would draw. While Jenny spoke, Andi would lay out the soy.
It was going to be an interesting afternoon.
When the demon popped into existence–the same glowing, vaguely human shape as before–Jenny jumped. Andi twitched as well, even though she was expecting it.
Jenny ducked in closer, trying to see what was up. She was going to have the first part, but now that they were working together , they had a bit of leeway. They had enough time for Jenny to gawk for a while.
“It’s so cute!” she cried out.
Andi smiled. Cute wasn’t the word that she would have chosen, but she could see it.
“Watch this,” she said. “Hey, are you a demon?”
“Yes,” it said, it’s voice buzzing slightly. She couldn’t tell if the voice was exactly the same as the first demon had been, but she had a feeling that it was. These things seemed like peas in a pod, absolutely identical until formed into something more.
And this time around, that something was going to be a weapon.
Aspect of fire.
Seeking and returning, with enhancements for range and speed.
A dozen or more aspects, bound alternating one by one.
Each they put on made the demon look stranger and stranger. There didn’t always seem to be much of a relationship between the aspect and the changes in appearance. The fire aspect made it look on fire, but the dimensional folding only made it purple. Seeking and returning stretched the demon out and thickened it a bit, but when it further gained speed, it shrunk back down and got even fatter.
An hour later and they were nearing completion. Nothing had gone wrong–at least not yet.
Andi could have smacked herself for thinking those words. She couldn’t think of a time in her life that she should have been more aware of the karmic consequences of her actions than right then–summoning a demon.
Mere moments after she’d said it, there was a crack from the other side of the circle where Jenny was working.
“What was that?” Andi asked.
Of course, Jenny couldn’t answer. She was in the middle of a chant. She couldn’t see what Andi had–although she had to have heard the sound–so she was just continuing on task. She looked worried though.
And well she should. The most recent circle that she’d drawn, the one right in front of her, had broken. Andi wasn’t sure exactly how it had happened, but that didn’t matter now. What mattered was the split–no more than an inch in diameter–which was spraying red sparks.
Andi tried to remember exactly what had made up that circle. It was some sort of reddish powder, perhaps chili powder? But it was in the fifth layer of circles out, the third branching off of the previous layer with room for another. Jenny would know–she had made the circle after all, and it was on the paper in front of her–but she was still chanting and for the moment Andi didn’t want to interrupt her.
She looked down at her own list. She only had three more to go and the rough estimates on time they’d put in the margins showed that she had at least a few minutes of leeway before she would have to try the next–and a few minutes more after that before things went particularly badly. That should be enough time.
Walking carefully around the circle, she caught Jenny’s eyes. She made a circular motion with her hand that she hoped Jenny would take to mean that she should keep going. Jenny raised an eyebrow, but did as Andi hoped. Andi nodded and continued to circle, careful not to step on any of the other circles–just in case.
Once she was standing behind Jenny, she looked over her shoulder. Luckily, she was short enough that it wasn’t much of a stretch.
Andi skimmed down the list quickly. As she did, Jenny reached up and put a finger on the page, moving across as she read. She was showing Andi where she was reading. The words were written out in a kind of phonetic short hand that Andi wasn’t sure she could have read, but that didn’t matter. Jenny had written it, Jenny could read it. In any case, a few lines above her present location was the ingredient list. She’d been half correct. Chili powder and redwood ash, mixed in a four to one ratio.
Just as Andi finished reading, another resounding crack pulled her attention back to the circle. Another line had broken. The red sparks were jumping across two points now, the second even larger than the first. They seemed to be completing the circle for the moment, but Andi had to complete it.
She heard Jenny’s tone change, her words speeding up. She stumbled over one syllable then another, quickly correcting each time. She couldn’t look down and see the holes in the circle–not without losing her rhythm entirely–but she had to know something was wrong now.
A third crack. More red sparks.
She wasn’t sure why it was happening, but she had a pretty good idea that it wasn’t good.
She glanced over at Jenny’s table, finding a shallow mixing bowl with a red powder that looked the same as the now broken circle on the floor. Her now almost empty tube of chili powder sat beside it, so she figured that this would be the one to try. Another crack, louder this time, let her know that she didn’t have time to try another option.
She snatched up the bowl and ducked down, spreading the powder just outside of the circle. Carefully using her hand, she pushed it into place.
“Ow!” The sparks had jumped from the circle to her hand, giving her a small electrical jolt. But the circle had closed. There were still one or two occasional sparks where she’d closed it, but nowhere near the dozens she’d seen before.
Shaking her hand for a moment to try to deaden the pain, she poured another pile of power and ash, then two more. Moving quickly and trying to ignore the pain, she pushed each into place. Each sparked, each spark hurting slightly more.
Finally though, she was done. Jenny’s words reached a crescendo, her words grown sharp the same way that Andi’s had during her first summoning. She still hadn’t figured out quite why that was. It just seemed the natural way to say it; obviously Jenny felt the same way.
As she finished, Jenny finally could look down. She saw Andi sitting on the floor with the bowl of powder and raised an eyebrow.
“Not sure.” Andi answered her unspoken question. “I think we’re good now.”
Jenny nodded. “Three more for you too?”
Andi nodded back.
Five more minutes and they’d be done.
Andi looked up to see the demon. It was big now, almost too big to be contained in the circles. It looked more solid than it had and ugly to boot. The closest analogue she could honestly think of was one of those beast men from those crazy video games her brother had always liked to play when they were growing up.
It looked back at her. The original smaller version of the demon hadn’t ever turned to look at her–this one seemed rather more aware of its surroundings. For just a moment, Andi wondered if they were doing the first thing. The demon seemed self-aware, perhaps even sentient. Were they creating an entirely new being only to enslave it?
It was too late to stop now though. They had to finish the summoning. The book was very clear on that point–that once a summoning was complete one had to take it through to completion. If you didn’t, there was always the chance that things would end up rather differently than intended. It could be possible to abort early, but only if you used the capstone enhancement earlier than intended and bound it to a physical form. But who knew what sort of powers you’d end up with then. The book claimed that things had a tendency to act a little strange when that happened though.
Only three more enhancements.
The last, they had planned to say together. The book didn’t say much about doing that, only a bare paragraph about how it could help with stability, but only if you trusted your co-reader enough not to make a mistake. Two different instructions given at the same time could have dire consequences indeed.
But she trusted Jenny. She’d had her back during some of the more… interesting… times during their undergraduate days just as she’d had hers. They wouldn’t mess this up.
The final product was… underwhelming. She wasn’t entirely sure what she had been expecting, but something a bit more impressive would have been a bit better. As it was, it was just a simple steel band shaped into a ring.
Carefully, Andi stepped into the rings. The book had said that after a summoning, the rings would be rendered powerless. They couldn’t even be reused, at least not the way that they were using them. Theoretically, it was possible to form summoning rings of metal and mount them permanently in a floor. That just seemed a bit too… permanent though. Even though she knew about demons now–and had made a weapon to fight who knew what–it wasn’t something that she’d yet considered being a permanent change. More of an experimental phase.
The rings did exactly as little as they were supposed to. She reached to pick up the ring.
It looked exactly the same as it had when she’d first put it in the circle. A simple circle of unmarked steel, just large enough that she could wear it on her thumb if she chose to do so.
Luckily, the book had a whole range of techniques for dealing with situations like these. If everything had gone well, it would automatically size itself to anyone that tried to put it on their finger.
“So?” Jenny said from off to the side. “Try it on.”
She was still standing outside of the circle with her arms crossed beneath her breasts. She looked expectant.
Andi rolled her eyes, but she put the ring on.
It performed exactly as expected, shrinking instantly to fit snugly–but not too tightly–onto her finger. She couldn’t actually see it change, which surprised her somewhat. Just one moment it was far too large and the next it was just the right size.
“Weird,” Andi and Jenny said right on top of one another. Andi looked up and her smile was met with Jenny’s own.
“What else should we try?” Andi asked.
“How about the strength boosters?”
The weapon that they’d made functioned more like a suit of armor than anything else. It made the wearer far tougher and more durable, ready for anything. Or at least that was the idea in theory.
In practice, they could have bound the demon directly into either one of them. That would have given them more control and would have allowed for even more intense abilities. Putting it in the ring instead imposed some limitations–but they could take it off. If nothing else, that was the deciding factor. Neither was quite willing to let a demon in. Not just yet.
“Stärken,” Andi said allowed, looking down at the ring. Jenny didn’t know German, but had agreed that they needed another language for the activation words. She’d agreed that German was as good a language as any. Plus, she liked how the feel of the language related to the idea of summoning demons as much as Andi did.
The ring didn’t change.
“Did it work?” Jenny asked.
Andi shrugged. She didn’t feel any different.
“Hmm,” Jenny said. “How about…” She looked around the room. With a quick motion, she reached over to the table. Before Andi could see what she was reaching for, Jenny had hefted something small and chucked it right at her.
Andi didn’t even feel her arm move. It was like the change of the ring. One moment, she had her arms at side. The next, her hand was in front of her chest, a pen clasped tightly.
“Cool!” Jenny exclaimed.
Andi shivered. She hadn’t felt herself move. She hadn’t even thought about it; it had just happened all by itself. “Creepy.”
Jenny reached for something else on the table. Andi had enough time this time around to see what she had though… Just in time to see her friend advancing on her with a wickedly curved knife, fire in her eyes.
The good news: the ring enhanced her reaction time and movements to the point that she could snatch the blade right out of the air when Jenny threw it at her.
The bad new: she didn’t actually know how one was supposed to go about catching a thrown knife and ended up grabbing hold of it at just the wrong angle.
“I am so sorry.” Jenny was gushing even as she wrapped Andi’s hand in a long bandage over the gauze pads they’d already put down.
“I just don’t know what possessed you to chuck a knife at me,” Andi said. She did her best to keep a smile in her voice, telling herself that she shouldn’t be mad. Maybe she would have done the same thing had their positions been reversed.
That was a lie.
“At least it’s only a little cut!” Jenny said, brightening suddenly.
By some definitions. Andi thought to herself. She was right at least that the cut wasn’t deep–it wouldn’t need stitches. That was one good thing at least; she couldn’t even begin to imagine how she would explain that one.
“You could have tried something a little less dangerous,” Andi needled. The smile was obvious in her voice now though.
“Do you want to stab me instead?” Jenny asked.
Andi thought about it. For a moment, she actually considered it. But no, it wasn’t worth it.
Plus, they already knew that the ring worked. At least that aspect of it.
“We really should have given it some sort of healing abilities,” Andi muttered.
“I thought you said that it was too complicated,” Jenny said. Unfortunately, Andi knew full well that she was right. For a lot of things, the demonic encoding could actually grant abilities that the summon didn’t previously had. That was why it could make Andi move more quickly than she could alone. But for some things–like repairing human anatomy–it was much easier to encode the demon if you actually had some knowledge of what would need to be done.
“Maybe next time,” she said. Jenny nodded.
Just then Andi was realizing just what she was getting herself into. She actually thought of herself as being in this world for the long term. What did that even mean?
How would things change?
What could possibly remain the same?