If she hadn’t seen her with her own two eyes, she wouldn’t have believed it. The demon was still burning away behind them–she could feel the heat–but that meant…
“Of course dear. Now, how can I help you?”
Andi and Jenny looked at each other. Without a word, they moved together, doing their best to hide the still burning body behind them. Andi stole a quick glance behind her–not long left now.
“Um,” she said helpfully.
“We were looking for a book.” Jenny finished all in a rush.
Andi looked over at her. “A book?”
“What sort of book?” Mrs. Morris–they had to assume she was the real Mrs. Morris this time; even though she couldn’t get the possibility that she was another fake out of her mind.
Andi waited for Jenny to answer, but she said nothing. Apparently asking for a book in a book store was the full extent of her idea.
“Auslöschen” she hissed under her breath. That had to have been long enough. She immediately felt the heat subside, but she still waited a few moments before turning. Luckily, Mrs. Morris just smiled at them both idly. For whatever reason, she seemed to have completely forgotten that she didn’t actually like Andi.
When she felt enough time had passed, Andi spun on her heel. Taking quick steps across the floor, she whipped the demon up off the floor in a single smooth motion, folding it as she went. To her eternal goodwill, the other Morris’ body was gone. Not a trace of it remained… except…
There was a slightly black smudge, right off on one side. She thought it might have been where the head had bled. It was powdery now, rather than a spreading puddle and most of it had been burnt off. But there was a bit still left.
She would just have to hope that the real Mrs. Morris wouldn’t notice.
“We’re looking for something like this.” She hefted Computational Demonology and turned back around.
Mrs. Morris just smiled and took a few steps more forward. “Like what dear?”
Andi held the book out slightly, but still kept a solid hold on it. On the off chance that this was yet another Morris-demon, she wasn’t going to lose the book that easily. She even considered activating the strength in her ring–but she just didn’t know how to do so in any manner even approaching being subtle.
Mrs. Morris took another few steps closer until she was standing well within Andi’s personal space. She finally stopped and held out a hand to the book. She stopped just shy of touching it–for the best, if she had actually touched it Andi didn’t know what she would have done–and just held her hand right over it.
After a long ten second, Mrs. Morris looked up. Her eyes were clearer than Andi had sever seen them and she caught Andi’s gaze and held it. “Where did you get this?”
*So she didn’t know…* Andi couldn’t help but think to herself. Internally, she sighed in relief. Even when they’d killed the first Mrs. Morris, she’d still felt absurdly guilty about that. By not returning it, she was effectively complacent with the original thief–whoever that had been. But if Mrs. Morris didn’t even recognize it…
“Have you ever seen anything like this?” Andi asked. It wasn’t really a lie if she just ignored the question, was it?
She also noticed that Jenny had surreptitiously shifted while they’d been talking and was collecting the supplies. Andi hoped that she’d remember the summoning circle in the other room. It wouldn’t be trivial to clean, but if she could keep Mrs. Morris busy for a short while it should be enough.
Mrs. Morris was studying the book carefully, her hands moving over it in a curious pattern, yet never quite touching the surface. Andi could feel the tension running through her arms at that, but she did her best to ignore it. So long as she didn’t actually try to take it…
“Yes… yes…” Mrs. Morris had been muttering to herself for what felt like several minutes now. Normally Andi would have grown impatient long ago, but at the moment she was still trying to buy Jenny as much time as she could. “I think I have just the thing.”
That got Andi’s full attention. “You have another book like this?”
“Of course I do.” She sounded almost scandalized. “I have a little bit of everything.”
She’d always said that, but Andi had never really had the opportunity to put it to the test. Certainly she’d never had to go anywhere else for some of her more exotic searches, but she’d always thought that was just luck. She’d never really had the time–or the money–to really be looking for anything special.
“It’s just right over here,” Mrs. Morris said, tilting on her heal so that she almost feel and heading directly for the room Jenny had gone to.
“Are you sure?” Andi asked, suddenly panicking. Had she bought Jenny enough time?
Her worry came to naught though as just then Jenny came around the corner. She had a bag on her shoulder with what Andi could only hope was the rest of their supplies.
“Oh, hello dear.” Mrs. Morris said. “I’ll be with you shortly.” Without waiting for a response, she wove around her and passed into the other room.
“We good?” Andi asked, her voice a whisper despite the fact that Mrs. Morris probably wouldn’t have heard them even at a normal volume.
Jenny nodded. “We should go though.” Andi raised an eyebrow. “We may not have to explain Mrs. Morris’ disappearance, but the neighbors still had to have heard the gunfire.”
Andi nearly swore. She’d forgotten about that minor detail. “She said she has another book.”
It was Jenny’s turn to look surprised. She gestured at Andi’s copy of Computational Demonology still held in her hands.
Jenny paused for a moment, before saying. “What are you going to do.”
“Check it out, of course.” Andi said. “How about you go and get the car ready though?” Jenny looked significantly better than she had since she’d first shot other-Morris, but she still didn’t look great.
Jenny nodded. “Don’t take long.”
As she turned to leave, Andi made a snap decision and reached out. “Here,” she said, holding out the book.
Jenny looked at it, then up at Andi, but finally took it. She had to shuffle the bags to do so and it couldn’t have been comfortable, but she managed.
“Thanks,” Andi said. Jenny merely nodded and headed out the door. Andi watched her go, then turned to follow what she sorely hoped was the real Mrs. Morris deeper into the shop.
Mrs. Morris was waiting for her. In her hands, she held a thin volume that looked almost nothing like the book Andi had just sent with Jenny. About the only thing that was even close was that both books were made of similar looking dark leather. So far as she could tell, this book didn’t have silver threads though.
Then again, she wouldn’t have been able to see Computational Demonology’s threads from this distance either.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“You said you were looking for a book,” Mrs. Morris said. She didn’t even seem that interested any more.
“I did. Like mine though.”
“This is,” Mrs. Morris said, holding the book out. “Like yours I mean.”
Andi glanced at the book and then back up at Mrs. Morris. She couldn’t tell if she was serious or if she’d suddenly decided to develop a sense of humor.
“Here,” she said almost forcing it into Andi’s hands.
She took hold of it but immediately jerked back. It felt like an electrical charge had passed through her from her hands to her core, then upwards to her head and down to her feet. She tensed up suddenly, jerking backwards several inches and pushing hard against the book.
Mrs. Morris was looking at her now though with an inscrutable expression on her face. She was never particularly easy to read–although part of that might just have been that she was old enough to have an entirely different world view than Andi–but this was a new high.
She didn’t say anything–just calmly stood there watching Andi. She’d never entirely let go of her own smaller book, so it hadn’t dropped to the floor.
“I… don’t think that’s quite the same,” Andi finally managed. At the very least, the feeling of an electric shock was different from an earthquake. Still, perhaps they were related?
“Well of course not,” Mrs. Morris said. Her tone had taken on a vaguely patronizing tone. “If they were the same book, then I would be selling yours rather than this one.”
Andi didn’t know how to take that. Did the old woman know that she’d essentially stolen the book or didn’t she?
“And besides,” Mrs. Morris said. “This one is quite a bit more portable.”
So at least she had noticed the difference. That was something to say the least.
But none of this seemed to be related at all. If this book were anything similar to the other, it was interesting, but on the flip side it certainly didn’t seem to like her. And she still had so much to do with the first book; she didn’t really need to deal with a second one.
“I don’t think that’s quite what we’re looking for,” Andi said. “Perhaps another day.”
Mrs. Morris nodded ever so slightly. Andi thought she saw a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth, but she couldn’t be sure. If she really were about to smile, it would be among the first times she’d ever seen.
“Of course dear.” She tucked the book under one of her arms then just stood there idly for several long moments.
“I’ll… just be going then?” Andi said, backing slowly up.
Mrs. Morris didn’t say anything. Andi was starting to think that they may just have another demon on their hands. She certainly wasn’t acting normal.
Then again, she’d been old and strange to begin with. She’d always been a little strange.
Jenny was sitting on the couch when Andi returned to her apartment. Her legs were folded under her and she looked even smaller than she normally did. The book lay open in front of her, but she didn’t appear to be actually reading it.
“What’s up?” Andi asked.
Jenny looked up at her. “What are we doing?”
Andi didn’t answer immediately, although she had a pretty good idea that she knew exactly what Jenny was asking about. Instead of answering, she crossed her living room and joined Jenny on the couch, sitting closer to her.
The two sat there for several long moments in silence, neither saying a word or even so much as looking at the other. They didn’t have to though. They’d known each other long enough and well enough that certain things could easily go unspoken.
It was Jenny who broke the silence. “We killed her.”
Andi couldn’t completely contradict her. “We killed a demon.”
“It looked like an old lady.”
“At first,” Andi accepted, “but you saw it by the end. You can’t even begin to say that was human.”
“That’s not how it works?”
“Not how what works?”
“What do you mean?”
“You can’t just make a demon out of nothing. Demons are beings of pure intellect, pure Mind. You have to give them a body.”
Andi’s confusion must have shown on her face.
“How much of this have you actually read?”
Andi tried to look over her shoulder at the still open book, but she didn’t recognize any of the diagrams on the pages it was showing. “Um, a few chapters. The one on history. Summoning. A few on enhancements.”
“None of the metaphysics?”
“The principals that underlay all of this.”
Andi had to admit that she hadn’t. In all this time, she hadn’t really had the time to really get into the background material–or at least that was what she told herself. Truth be told though, the history chapter at the beginning hadn’t been nearly as interesting as the rest of the more practical sections. She hadn’t even asked the books for anything more–so of course it hadn’t given her anything. It seemed almost sentient like that.
Jenny must have seen the truth on her face. “I needed something to distract me.”
Andi opened her mouth, but shut it again without saying anything. How was she supposed to deal with this?
Jenny took the decision out of her hands though, launching into an explanation of sorts for the rules underlying the universe they now appeared to be inhabiting.
“Life,” she explained. “–all life–is made up of three basic aspect: Body, Mind, and Soul. Depending on the ratio of the three, you could have a wide variety of truly alien organisms. Body, for example, was the domain of the lesser animals. Those without much in the way of high intelligence and those without a true sense of self–at least to the extent that a human might see it.”
“Smarter animals though take on more of the other aspects. The theory in the book mentions that some animals took on a reasonable aspect of Mind. Those that could use tools, or those who could take on complex plans. Animals like the higher primates, dolphins, even octopi all have at least a touch of Mind.”
“Soul on the other hand is a bit more nebulous. In a nutshell, it gives humankind their sense of self. It’s what makes us human rather than just the smartest animals on the block. The book goes a bit into exactly why that is–why only humans among the animal kingdom are particularly strong in aspects of Soul. The book says that it’s entirely possible that there is a God behind the universe. It just doesn’t seem too interested in the details.”
“Seriously?” Andi cut in. “We’re dealing with real life demons… and there’s still no proof either way on the whole God thing?”
Jenny smiled. That was something that she and Andi talked about extensively from time to time. Was there a God? What could He–or She–possibly look like? Be like? Why were we all here? She shrugged. “That’s what the book says. Part of the problem is that term though–demons.”
“Hmm?” Andi said.
“Demons. It’s not really that accurate of a term.”
“What do you mean?”
“That’s not what they were originally called. They only took on that name in the Middle Ages. Back when the Church decided to go after the sorcerers of the time?”
“Sorcerers?” The term sounded familiar, but she couldn’t quite place it.
“Anyone who summons demons.”
“Sorcerers. Exactly. Although that term isn’t that much older than demons.”
“What were they–we–called before that?”
She shrugged. “The book doesn’t even seem to know.”
“Tell me about it. It’s almost like the book is alive, the way it keeps responding to me.”
Andi nodded. “You know, I have a theory about that…”
Jenny held up a hand to stop her. “Later. Let me finish.” Andi snapped her mouth shut. At the very least, telling what she’d learned was distracting her from her earlier issues.
“So the thing is, demons are sort of like animals. But rather than being pure Body, they’re beings of pure Mind.”
“How does that even work?”
“Just the same as animals I guess. You don’t actually need any of the three to be alive. You’ll just be… different.”
“That’s it though.” Andi’s mind was jumping ahead. She may not have actively sought out these chapters of Computational Demonology but That’s why demons need to be bound to a physical form. They don’t have a body of their own, but if they’re given one.”
She nodded. “Theoretically, it can work. After all, animals don’t need much at all of either Mind or Soul. But if you can given them a shell, that should be enough.”
“But they don’t have any Soul either?”
She shook her head. “Nope. That’s actually an interesting point. See, Soul isn’t only responsible for self awareness–it’s also a key component in free will.”
“So you mean…”
“Exactly. Demons don’t have free will. They can’t actually make their own choices.”
“But what about when you first summon them. They’ll answer questions.”
“They have to answer questions. They don’t actually have a choice in the matter. That’s the advantage of being beings of pure Mind though. At that point, they have a sort of collective intelligence. Technically, they can answer just about any question. Although for some reason, they can only answer with yes or no.”
“Uh huh…” She still couldn’t quite see what that had to do with free will. Of course they had free will, they had to have it. How could some beings–like herself apparently–have free will and others not. “What about the one on the train?”
Andi hadn’t even considered it. In all of the excitement of the day, she’d somehow managed to miss telling her perhaps the most terrifying and exciting part of the story all together. Quickly, so as not to interrupt her quite so much, she layout out what had happened to her the night before. The man on the train–she’d at least managed to mention her first encounter with him earlier, although Jenny too wasn’t quite sure yet how his two appearances fit together–everyone passing out; the monstrous form that had shaken the train.
It didn’t take long to tell. It had felt like so much when it had happened, but actually telling the story again, it took only a few minutes. And that only because Jenny had a few questions, trying to reconcile the demon’s activities with her apparent knowledge that demon’s didn’t have free will, despite the fact that it seemed to be free willing rather intently on the train.
After Andi finished her story, Jenny was silent for a long moment before finally she said. “That still doesn’t mean anything.”
“How do you figure?”
“It doesn’t have to have free will to attack the train like that. All it needed was someone to tell it to do so.”
“But it was trying to flip the car.”
“Oh it can still make some choices. Tactical ones in this case. Even certain strategical ones were possible. Just so long as the choice is purely computational.”
“What does that even mean?”
Jenny opened her mouth, only to close it again. And again. Finally, she said. “Yeah, I’m not really sure how it all works my self.” She considered for a moment. “I think it’s like the scene from the Matrix.” Andi stared at her. “You know the one. Where they go on about being all predestined because they already made it long ago?”
Andi shook her head.
“It was in the second one I think. Or maybe the third.”
That explained it at least. “I only ever saw the first one.”
“Ah. In any case, the whole idea is that you can have the illusion of free will, but really you are just acting out decisions that were already made some time before.”
“In this case, the sorcerer is the one that actually has free will. They’re the one that set the demon on its path of destruction.”
Andi wasn’t sure that she entirely followed the philosophical point that Jenny was trying to make, but the more practical one certainly struck home.
“Wait. You mean there was a human being behind that attack?”
“There had to have been. Demons don’t just act on their own. They can’t.”
“Great. Just great.”
“Well, I guess there’s another possibility…”
“Rogue demons?” Yet honestly, she wasn’t sure if that were a better option or a worse one. Perhaps it was better if some madman had sicked the demon on the train. Humans could be dealt with.
“No,” Jenny said, shaking her head and pausing for a moment. “An angel.”
“Just like you can have something that’s purely Mind, it’s possible to have beings of pure Spirit. Back in the Middle Ages though when the former became known as demons, the latter were known as angels.”
“Partially, this was due to their inherent opposition. Beings of such purely different compositions are natural enemies. Even more importantly, it was possible for sorcerers to summon and control demons. Without Souls of their own, they were completely under the sorcerers’ control. Angels on the other hand–being beings purely of Soul themselves–are not so easily manipulated. With nothing but free will, they tend to be rather resistant to both control and change.”
“Wait,” Andi said. “But then why would an angel be controlling a demon?”
Jenny shrugged. “They have free will. It’s entirely possible for an angel to work with a demon–and the demon wouldn’t have much chance to say anything about it. It would take something significant to make an angel choose something like this… but it’s entirely possible.”
“But what does it mean?”
“I don’t know. I’m not actually sure which possibility is worse–a sorcerer or a rogue angel.”
Andi shuddered. So far as she could figure, the only two interesting things on that train that could have led to a demon attack where her and the mysterious thin man–who in turn seemed unduly interested in her. She didn’t want to have the focus of either a sorcerer or a rogue angel. Sure, they’d made a neat steel ring and a blanket of firey doom, but in the grand scheme of things that didn’t mean much.
There was only one way to be sure though.
“We need to find the man from the train,” Andi said.
Jenny nodded. “You know, I’ve been thinking about that.”
“I don’t think he’s human.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, think about it. What did he do when the demon attacked?”
Andi thought back. He had stretched. Arms long enough to reach his knees, sharpened to fine points. Teeth filed to fangs.
And most importantly, he didn’t had a physical body.
She hadn’t had a chance to make that connection yet, but it appeared that Jenny had. Neither demons nor angels had physical forms, but men did. Even if they were vastly enhanced by demonic enhancements, they were still entirely stable.
So in all likelihood, he hadn’t been a man. He hadn’t had enough Body of his own to have a physical form.
“See?” Jenny said. She must have seen the changing expressions on Andi’s face as she realized exactly what falling through him on the train must have meant.
But what did it mean?
Was he a demon?
Or an angel?
Or something else?
“When would a demon fight another demon?” Andi asked.
Jenny shrugged. “Whenever their sorcerers tell them to.”
“Ah.” Andi thought. She’d missed that part yet again. “So if he was a demon, that meant that someone was controlling him.”
If Andi hadn’t been listening so carefully, she might have missed that one rather important word.
“Well, it’s all theory.” She held up the book. But she’d always been pretty good at turning theory into practice. “But there are vague hints at binding a Soul to a demon.”
Andi shook her head. She wasn’t following the distinction that well. “But that wouldn’t be a demon any more, would it?”
“Well, not exactly. The book doesn’t really say what it would be. Beings of only one out of Body, Mind, or Soul are fairly common–animals, demons, and angels. And mankind is a perfect example of a combination of all three. But for some reason, permanent combinations of only two don’t seem to be particularly stable.”
“But wouldn’t that be what happens when you use demonic powers on yourself?”
Jenny inclined her head. “More or less. But that’s exactly my point. You can’t just bind demonic powers to yourself, not for long. If you try to hang on to them, there is a price to pay…”
“A price?” She faintly remembered reading something about this, but she hadn’t been particularly interested in the details. She’d been squeamish enough about using demonic powers so directly, so instead she’d looked into binding them into the ring.
Jenny nodded. “The details are… a little vague.”
Andi sighed. “Of course they are.” All of the more interesting details seemed to be that way. Just one more chapter, just a few more details.
“But it’s possible? To give a demon a Soul?”
Any way though–angel, demon, or something far stranger–didn’t matter. Their next step was eminently clear. They had to find the man from the train.
The only time that she’d ever seen the man had been on the train, so that seemed the best chance that they would have to find him once again. After all, he’d shown up quickly enough both times when it had been important.
The main question though was if they were to go now or if it would be better to wait until tomorrow. The trains ran 24 hours a day, so timing wasn’t particularly a problem. But she couldn’t be sure that they’d find him right away and it was getting on the late side. Neither of them had to work the next day, but riding the train for hours on end didn’t seem that particularly appealing either.
On the other hand, one advantage they had was that Jenny had a car–and she had it with her right now. That way, it should be possible for Andi to ride the train out until the man showed up–assuming that he would–but then take the car back. This late at night, the trains were far enough apart that a car could back more quickly.
Tonight it was.