After bandaging up her hand, Jenny brought up a point that Andi hadn’t even considered. Had Morris–the old lady who owned the bookstore where Andi had originally found the book–known about it?
Had she had anything to do with the book showing up in Andi’s bag?
On one hand, the man on the train had said that he’d been the one to giver her the book. Conversely though, where had he gotten it? She hadn’t seem him at the shop–not until she’d gotten on the train. So was he related to Morris? Or had he outright stolen the book.
“Want to take a road trip?” Jenny asked. Unlike Andi, she had a car. From time to time, Andi had considered getting one, but paying for parking just wasn’t worth it. Not when the train and bus systems worked well enough for most purposes.
Andi and Jenny stood on the opposite side of the street by Jenny’s car, looking over at the sign above Morris’ door.
Luckily, Morris’ shop was open six days a week–all but Thursday. She’d never quite figured out that one herself, but she figured that elderly bookstore owners were allowed to be a bit on the eccentric side.
There didn’t seem to be anyone visiting yet, but it wasn’t always easy to tell. Just like Andi, a fair few of the other customers she’d seen there over the years rode the train or even walked.
“How about we see if there’s anything else in the basement first?” Andi asked. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to deal with Morris–it was more that she didn’t want to deal with Morris just yet.
Just a short delay.
Jenny rolled her eyes, but she didn’t say anything. She didn’t know Morris, but she must have been willing to accept Andi’s viewpoint. At least for the time being.
The basement seemed identical to when Andi had last been there. The books were still piled high on each shelf, some stacked in so tight it wouldn’t be possible to fit a razor in edgewise.
She still couldn’t tell where the book on Computational Demonology had originally been. But then again, that books particular spot had been gone already the first day. She still hadn’t been able to puzzle out how that one had happened.
“They look like a bunch of old books,” Jenny said. She’d never had quite the appreciation for their look and feel that Andi had. “Anything else look interesting?”
Andi didn’t seen anything. But then again, she couldn’t quite pick out what it had been that had drawn her eyes to Computational Demonology in the first place. It just hadn’t looked that terribly out of place.
She was about to tell Jenny as much when they were both interrupted by a crash from upstairs.
“What was that?” Jenny asked.
Andi shrugged. She was already heading back upstairs. In all likelihood, old lady Morris had just fallen down. She may not have liked her, but that didn’t mean she wished her any particular sort of harm.
Upstairs, they couldn’t immediately see Mrs. Morris. She wasn’t sitting at her desk reading as she’d been when they first walked in.
It only took a moment though to realize that something was wrong. Mrs. Morris’ chair was tilted at a crazy angle, half leaning against the desk, looking like it was about ready to fall at any moment.
“Where is she?” Jenny asked.
Andi said nothing. She pulled out the steel ring though and slipped it on her finger. Looking up, she caught Jenny’s eye. They both nodded. With any luck, nothing was wrong. But if it was… this was exactly the sort of situation that they’d made the right for after all, hadn’t they?
For that to work though, they still had to find her.
The scream was well beyond inhuman and so loud that Andi’s hands snapped up to cover her ears almost before she realized what was happening.
A fraction of a second later, a tiny figure in a brown dress with a nice floral pattern came flying seemingly from the sky. It took a moment for Andi to realize that it was Mrs. Morris–and that she’d just jumped off of a bookshelf at them.
A moment after that, Mrs. Morris fell on her with the full force of a 98 pound elderly woman.
Granted, it wasn’t much. It still knocked her to the ground though.
“Mrs. Morris?” Andi said. She didn’t know how to react. She still wasn’t sure when Mrs. Morris punched her flat out in the face. “Oof.”
“I take it she normally isn’t quite so… angry?” Jenny’s voice came from somewhere off to the side. It was hard to tell exactly where from Andi’s position on the ground, especially with a face full of flowered dress.
“Not so much,” Andi managed, barely ducking out of the way of the other fist. What in the world had gotten into her?
In way of answer, Mrs. Morris made a gurgling sort of sound–it could have been words, but if it was it was no language Andi had ever heard of–and almost seemed to growl. Andi got her first full on look at her face and nearly swore.
Mrs. Morris’ eyes were gone. Were they once had been sat two pits of complete and utter blackness. It wasn’t that the eyes themselves had turned black, it was more that there were two eyes in her skull. Even worse though, they were too deep. Even in the light, Andi couldn’t see to the bottom of them, they seemed to go on for ever.
w҉hér̢e i̡s͝ the b̛ook̕
Her voice was not Mrs. Morris’. It was rougher and sharper all at once; edging on a growl and a scream all at the same time.
i͏ ̢k̕n͠ow̡ ͝y̸o͠u h̸av̶e i̴t ͠
Her mouth was a black hole as well, as deep and dark as her eyes. Her teeth–what few she’d had to begin with–were gone, her gums flapping slightly with each word.
giv́e it to͜ ͢mȩ
There was a blur of movement just above her followed by a liquid sounding thud. Mrs. Morris jerked to the side, falling off of Andi and to the floor. Even as she was rolling the other way out of habit, it took a moment for Andi’s brain to process the movement.
“You hit her!” she cried out when she figured it out. Jenny stood over her, holding what looked like a long metal bar.
“She’s a demon,” Jenny yelled back.
Even as she said it, Mrs. Morris was already getting back up. She wasn’t even pretending to be fully human any more, at the very least not in the way she was moving. Her motions were closer to flowing upwards than standing; her bones no longer seemed entirely solid.
Andi shuttered, standing herself and taking a step back so that she was standing side by side with Jenny.
“The ring!” Jenny suddenly exclaimed.
Andi could have smacked herself. She couldn’t imagine how she could have forgotten something like that. This was exactly the sort of situation that they’d made it for–although she never could have imagined that it would be Mrs. Morris that they’d have to fight.
“Stärken,” Andi cried.
Again, she didn’t feel anything. She wouldn’t know if the ring had worked or not–perhaps not until it was too late.
The Morris-demon cocked its head.
s̛or̴c҉ere̛r? you͡ ̸l̀ea̶r͡n͜ ͘qu̷i͜c̀k͠l̶y̢
Lowering its head, it charged.
Andi had a bare fraction of a second to respond, but with her reflexes boosted by the power of her own demon-fueled ring, it was more than enough. With a quick step to the right, she shoved Jenny out of harm’s way while at the same time jerking the metal bar from her hand. A second quick step and she dodged out of the way just barely before the Morris-demon reached her.
It cried in anger as its moment carried it forward, falling onto the floor. In a single smooth motion though, it rolled bending into an impossibly tight ball before popping back up. A moment later, it was facing her once again.
Andi wasn’t completely confident yet in her ring. She hadn’t had any time to practice with it–and her hand was starting to throb again where Jenny had cut it. But if the Morris-demon had anywhere near the same abilities they’d put in the ring, she was going to have to do something.
She didn’t even want to consider the possibility that it might be even more possible.
“Let’s do this thing,” she said, slowly swinging the metal bar from hand to hand.
The thing that had once been Mrs. Morris through back its head and screamed at her–
di̶e̶ d̙͇i̬͟e̦ D̽̓̓̚͝i̻̭ͬ̏̄ͯ͝e̥̣̙̥̦̓ͣ͐̏̔̚ D̢̹̼͉͙̤̅̒͛͒͗ͤ̇I̩ͅḘ̙͎͉͚̙ͯ̿́͞
–and began to change. Its arms and legs elongated, the hands splitting in twain, flesh colored tentacles growing outwards in their place.
Her legs heaved outwards, doubling, tripling, quadrupling in size, looking more like an elephant’s than an old woman’s.
Her mouth opened wide. Wider. Impossibly wide, stretching upwards and outwards until it took most of the lower half of Mrs. Morris’ face, they eyes taking a large part of what remained.
Her form was barely human now–and that was what really mattered. When it had looked mostly like Mrs. Norris, Andi still had hope that something of the old woman remained. That there was some possibility–no matter how slim–that she could still help her.
Now that it had gone full demon?
There was nothing that could save it.
Reaching into the full well of power that they’d summoned into the ring, Andi cried out “schlagen” and swung the metal bar.
This time she felt it. Her arms felt heavy, but the bar suddenly felt like nothing. She wasn’t expecting it and pitched forward. But the metal bar hissed through the air and solidly connected with the side of Mrs. Morris’ face.
With a sickening crunch, the bar continued onwards, tearing apart an entire side of her face. Her cheek split open, pulling apart wider and wider. Rather than look painful, her mouth seemed to be getting wider and sharper.
The demon cried out with a hissing mix of pain and anger–or at least what Andi assumed was pain and anger; she couldn’t rightly tell any more. Before she could get out another word though, Andi swung again.
This time, she connected solidly, not shifting out of position at all. Some of the abilities they’d built into the demon helped to offset the disadvantages. She could feel the automatic stabilization kicking in, helping her get used to the boosted strength without the training she would normally have needed.
The blow was enough to knock the Morris-demon clear off of her feet this time. She fell to the side, catching herself nearly two feet to the side. Unfortunately, she caught herself on those elephantine feet with her tentacles for arms lashing out against the walls, leaving dents in the ground.
Then she swung back, her arms each whipping through the air one after another. They moved so very quickly. Far more quickly than she should have been able to respond. Yet her ring took the blunt of the attack, accelerating her hands up to catch the first on the metal bar and grab the second in a first of her own.
For a moment, the demon stood still. She seemed shocked that Andi had stopped her. Then she started to push.
She was strong.
Even boosted as she was, Andi couldn’t quite match the raw strength it had. It pushed her back, first an inch, then another. Her other arm started whipping around–whether trying to catch her or distract her, she couldn’t be sure. For the moment, she was managing to keep the metal bar between it and her, but it was only a matter of time.
in the enclosed space, the sound was deafening. Her ears rang and her eyes watered with the impact. She could see the Morris-demon’s head whip around and scream at whatever had happened, but Andi couldn’t hear a thing.
She could still see though. She could see the smoking crater in what had been Mrs. Morris’ sweater and upper chest.
And she could see the monster of a gun Jenny was holding in both of her hands.
Where in the world had she gotten that thing?
Was that even legal?
She vaguely recalled that it was possible to get a concealed carry license that could be used in the city, but only if your official county of residence was more rural. Laws could be strange that way.
That all was neither her nor there though; the really important point was that they were two against the one now. Better yet, they weren’t relying solely on demonic intervention to fight fire with fire. Now they had a bit of a human edge.
“Bring it,” Andi said, a wicked smile tugging at the corners of her lips. Her voice soudned awfully distorted since she still couldn’t hear anything externally.
She couldn’t help but think about poor Mrs. Morris–how long had she been a demon?–but at the same time, with Jenny entering the fray they had a dang good chance of making headway.
The demon screamed again. Andi thought she could hear a bit of it that time, but it was still dull. It looked back and forth between the threat that had torn apart her cheek and the one that had torn a hole in its chest.
The hole was terrifying. It should have killed her. If she were human, it would have. But she wasn’t human. And that gaping wound was barely even bleeding. There was a thin line of a thick, dark black fluid leaking from it, but that was it.
How were they going to stop her?
Abruptly, Andi realized that Jenny was trying to tell her something. She was yelling in her direction, but Andi still couldn’t make out the words. When she finally noticed Andi staring, she stopped for a moment then started again, more slowly.
“In. The. Head.” she voiced.
She was thinking exactly what Andi had already considered. Even if they couldn’t manage to kill the Morris demon in the more traditional ways, taking its head off should still manage to do the trick. At least her face barely even looked human anymore; she didn’t think she could have done it had it been any other way.
She started to swing.
Overlarge mouth? thud
Blank black eyes? thud
Torn mouth with only a slightly dribble of black sludge for blood? thud
Each blow tore another line in her flesh, splitting skin from bone and sending tiny splashes of black fluid spraying across the room.
After the third blow, she first noticed the blood on the walls. It was sizzling, burning holes in the wallpaper; in the bookshelves; in the books.
She couldn’t stop though. Not when they had the demon on the ropes. thud
Its face was misshapen now, lumpy and extending in odd directions. Her mouth was still moving slightly, but no sound came out.
Barely moving now.
“My turn,” Jenny said.
Andi heard her perfectly well this time. She hadn’t even noticed her voice coming back.
With an ugly expression on her face, Jenny stepped forward, standing directly over the misshapen thing’s head. She pointed the gun directly down, centering it on what was left of the skull.
And she pulled the trigger.
It was only later–far later–perhaps too late–that Andi came to her senses.
What where they going to do now?
Surely someone had heard the gunshots. Surely someone had heard the demons’ screams.
And worse yet, it would just be their luck that someone had seen them come into the shop. Even if not, someone would see them leaving.
“What are we going to do?” Andi asked.
Jenny didn’t answer. She was standing a few feet off to one side, gun dangling loosely from her hand. She hadn’t said a word since she’d ended the demon-Morris’ life and she wouldn’t meet Andi’s gaze.
“Come on Jen, we have to get out of here.” She put a hand on her shoulder.
Jenny swung at the touch, her neck craning upwards so that she could meet Andi’s gaze.
“I killed her.”
It wasn’t her words that got to Andi, it was the tone. Completely flat and lifeless, she’d never heard the like pass Jenny’s lips before today.
“You didn’t,” Andi said, keeping her eyes locked on Jenny’s. “She was already dead.” Jenny blinked at her. “She had to have been. Somehow the demon took her over. She was dead when we walked into the door.”
The problem was, she wasn’t sure if that was even possible. It was possible for a human form to host a demon and anchor it to our world. In exchange, the demon would grant all sorts of wonderful abilities. But so far as she had read, that was as far as it went. If the human were to die, the demon would die as well. It couldn’t just take over.
But that was only in what she had read. She didn’t know what was in the chapters she hadn’t seen yet. She couldn’t even have said how many chapters there were. When she’d first read that very first chapter–On the history of the demons–it had taken almost the entire book. Then she’d read the second. And the third. And more. All together, they should have taken a half dozen or more times the length of the book. But they all seemed to fit.
Frankly, it was impossible. But then again, she’d had to deal with a great many impossible things over the previous few days.
“Who did it then?” Jenny asked.
It took a moment for Andi to track what she was even talking about. “Turned her in to a demon?”
“I don’t know,” Andi admitted. Another mystery wrapped in an enigma. “But we still need to get out of here”
Jenny considered. Her face was still entirely too still, but at least her voice was starting to get a touch of life back. “What do we do with… that?”
Andi didn’t even have to look where she was pointing. There was only one that she could possibly have been referring to. She didn’t want to look, but she owed that much to Jenny at least.
The body still sat there on the floor, the remains of what had once been the head, slowly the same black oily fluid in an ever increasing puddle. Other than the tentacle arms and the elephantine legs, the body still looked vaguely human. Granted, those were some pretty big changes.
“This can’t be the first time…” Andi mumbled.
Jenny snapped around. “What can’t be the first time?”
“That a demon’s been ki… that a demon has died.”
If she noted the change, she said nothing. She just looked consideringly at the still form of the Morris-demon on the floor. “Fire?” she said after a brief pause.
“Jenny!” Andi cried out–although she would eventually have to admit that she’d been thinking along similar lines herself. “That’s arson!”
She shrugged. “As compared to murder?” She said it so matter of factly that it took Andi a moment to catch the undertone.
“It wasn’t murder,” she said. “It was self defense.”
“That burner you said you made,” she said after brief consideration. “We could use something like that.”
Andi nodded. “How do we keep it from burning out of control?”
Jenny shrugged. “I’m sure there’s a modification for that.”
Andi didn’t remember one, but Jenny was probably right. “But we need the book. And supplies.”
“Go,” Jenny said. “I’ll keep an eye out.”
Andi shook her head. “No. We both go.” Jenny looked askance at her. “What would it look like, if one of us was found here?”
“They’re going to know.”
“Someone had to have heard.” If only Andi hadn’t been thinking exactly the same thing only minutes before.
Andi had an idea though. It was still vague, but it was starting to come together. “The demon on the train…”
Jenny cocked her head to one side.
“Come with me.”
The way Jenny sped, Andi was worried that they wouldn’t even have to wait for someone to call in the gunshots to get the cops attention. Luckily, the night was quite.
Andi really wanted to know about that gun. Where had Jenny gotten it? Why? She couldn’t figure out how it could possibly be legal.
But the way that Jenny was acting–the way she was driving–she didn’t dare chance it. A distraction at the wrong moment could solve all of their problems in entirely the wrong way.
So instead they sped across the city in silence.
At home, they grabbed only the book and a handful of supplies. There wasn’t time to make sure they had everything; they had to get back to the store before all hell broke lose. Andi thought that she had figured out a way out of the mess, but the longer things went before they dealt with them, the worse it was going to be.
She could only hope that they had everything.
She could only hope that what she was planning was even possible.
Miraculously, when they arrived back at the store, there was no sign of any emergency services. Either the neighbors hadn’t heard any thing–unlikely–or they were all keeping their noses firmly planted in their own business.
It was only a matter of time though, Andi knew, until at least one of them realized that no one else was calling either and made that fateful call. They had to set up and they had to do it fast.
“You read, I’ll draw,” Andi said. Jenny just nodded and took the book. She’d gotten quiet again right when they’d gotten back. Hopefully she’d be better once they cleaned up the mess they’d made.
Preparing the circle as she’d done before, Andi started the summoning. She was only a little surprised to realize that she no longer needed her cheat sheet. She’d already managed to learn the words for the base summoning. It was a little strange. She didn’t normally memorize things quite so quickly. But it seemed the same thing that made them speak more loudly and strongly as they summoned had an effect on memory as well. She could almost see the words burning in the air in front of her.
Before long, another small being made of plasma was standing in the middle of the room in front of her. They’d set up in the back, a fair bit away from the body. Jenny was on the far side of her facing away.
“Think we can get rid of the body without doing any other damage?”
She’d meant the question for Jenny, but to her surprise it was the demon that answered. “Yes.”
That caught Jenny’s attention. Both her and Andi directed their attention at the demon.
“How?” Jenny asked.
Either she’d forgotten or she hadn’t quite believed Andi when she’d said that the base demon couldn’t answer anything but yes or no questions. It said nothing.
Andi watched the demon for a moment–just in case–then turned her attention back to Jenny. “Have you found anything?”
Her expression fell for a moment. “Not yet,” she said. “We do have the same techniques that you used the first time, but I haven’t found any way to control it.”
“Want a hand?” Andi asked, crossing the space between them and leaning against a bookshelf the same as Jenny. She seemed to be in the right section at least–nested enhancements–but it was a long section. There were a lot of possibilities. “I think there was a section on spacial configurations?”
“Yeah, I saw that,” she said. “But doesn’t that take a lot of math?”
Andi shrugged. She didn’t quite remember all of the details, but that sounded more or less correct. “So?”
“A lot of math.” She flipped back through the pages, bringing up the section in question.
Andi whistled softly. “Well, you weren’t wrong.” The page was absolutely covered with arcane signs and symbols. Only these symbols weren’t demonic in nature–they were geometric.
“I never was any good in math class,” Jenny admitted.
Andi smiled slightly. “You know, I’ve heard that most girls are actually pretty good at math. We’re just told that it’s hard from such a young age…”
Jenny shrugged. “That’s all well and good, but how does that help us now?”
“It… It doesn’t.” Andi considered for a moment. “We’re just going to have to wing it.”
Jenny blinked. “Is that a good idea?”
Andi decided to be truthful. “No. But we don’t really have another choice, do we?”
So far as either of them could tell, they did the math just fine. Smart phones went a long way towards easing the burden. Neither of them could see anything particularly wrong.
But then again, if both of them thought it was right then they wouldn’t see it, would they?
“Together?” Jenny asked. She was already rummaging through the bag for the supplies they would need. Luckily, they had the supplies.
Jenny drew the circle, Andi began the chant. As she spoke, the demon began to change form.
Once again, it grew, but this time it grew differently. Rather than becoming more bulky, it seemed to spread out, thinning as it went. More and more it began to grow thinner and thinner, spreading out as it did. Before long, it resembled nothing more than a thick slightly orange blanket.
The instructions had been vague on exactly how this demon would do its job, but she was beginning to get the idea.
The blanket covered the demon formerly known as Mrs. Morris, but only barely. They must have been just off in their calculations, but hopefully it wouldn’t be enough to matter.
As they spoke the command word, the blanket began to glow.
Even from a half dozen feet away, Andi could feel the heat. She backed away. So far there was no sign of actual fire, but something was going on.
After a moment, the blanket began to deflate. Slowly, the bulge that had been a body became less and less.
A moment after that, a terrible smell hit her. She recoiled, feeling the smell almost like a physical blow. Worse yet, it grew worse yet in the mere moments she was standing there.
“What is that?” Jenny asked.
Andi didn’t want to say. Unfortunately, she thought she had a pretty good idea.
The demon continued to lower itself slowly to the floor.
Andi looked over at Jenny and almost chuckled. Their movements were mirroring one another to an impressive degree. Both had their hands over their noses, pulling their shirts upwards to at least lesson the blow.
It wasn’t particularly effective.
The blanket was almost to the floor now. They were going to have to time this carefully–just in case. That way, even if they’d measured too high, they could still instruct the demon to cease its burn. The goal was to get rid of the evidence–not to burn down the entire shop.
“And what exactly do you think you’re doing, young ladies?”
Andi nearly jumped out of her skin. She spun, coming face to face with…