She found him within ten minutes.
More accurately–he found her.
One moment, she was alone. At this hour, there weren’t many other passengers. The last of the daytime passengers had already gone home and the late night partiers had hours to go yet. She was the only person on the lower level of her car and there was only one couple on the upper floor. However, they seemed otherwise occupied.
The next moment, he was sitting there.
It wasn’t a matter of him walking down the aisle to join her. Just one moment he wasn’t there and the next he was. She didn’t feel him settle down, nor did she feel a breeze. There was just a … feeling in the back of her mind and when she turned he was there.
Almost immediately, she tried to take his hand. It wasn’t anything romantic on her end, or anything like that. She just wanted to make sure…
Yes. He still wasn’t solid. Her hand went right through his, landing on the armrest they shared.
She left it there for several long moments, right up until he cleared his throat loudly enough that she was sure it was meant for her–not that there was any other possibility; if he didn’t have enough of a body to touch, then why would he need to clear his throat in the first place?
Still, she removed her hand.
“I thought you might come looking for us,” he said. His voice wasn’t the terribly deep rumble it had become when he’d turned into a demon killing machine, but it was still deep. It didn’t seem quite fair that a voice like that could come from effectively nothing at all.
“Why’s that?” she said, trying to keep herself on task.
“Your kind always does.”
“My kind?” She didn’t know if she should be offended. He hadn’t seemed the sort.
“Oh. A sorcerer.” She paused a moment. “Wait, a sorcerer is someone who summons demons, isn’t it?”
“A description which you fit, yes?”
She nodded, pausing. She’d told him the last time they’d met that she’d had the chance to summon a demon–and he’d chastised her for not making a weapon. It was fair to assume that he’d think she would have done so. At least two summonings put her well on the way to becoming a sorcerer.
But that left her question from last time–a question he’d never fully answered to her satisfaction. “You know, you never did tell me why you slipped the book to me in the first place.”
“I didn’t?” There was a touch of a twinkle in his voice.
“No. You didn’t.”
“Because you are necessary.”
She wasn’t sure what sort of answer that she had been expecting. It would have been too easy to get a straight forward one. But this seemed needlessly cryptic, even by what standards she’d been hoping for.
“What do you mean necessary?”
“I trust you’ve had some time to read since the last time we met.”
The last time they’d met, they’d been attacked and he’d yelled at her for not fighting back. It wasn’t quite something she wanted him to keep reminding her about.
“Yes. A bit.” And Jenny had given her a bit more. But he didn’t need to know that.
“So you know about the difference between demons and angels?”
All the better than Jenny had read ahead. Without her, he would have just had opportunity to yell at her again. She simply nodded.
“Well, as you well know then, there is a certain… tension between the two groups.”
“I didn’t think that demons had the ability to fight back though.”
“Well no. Not without sorcerers.”
“So how can they hope to match the angels?”
“Because there are a lot more demons.” There was real fire in his voice. She wasn’t sure how, but she seemed to have hit a nerve. She had to keep him talking though. The book was all well and good, but having a real live–well, whatever he was–to answer her questions could prove to be invaluable. “And you can always make more.”
“Wait, can’t you make more angels?”
He looked at her for a moment–likely wandering if she had actually read that part of the book or not–before answering. “No. That’s… not possible.”
He smiled again, but there was a touch of sadness to his voice this time around. “Read your book. It has all of the answers that you could possibly need.”
She thought again that it would be a lot easier if only he would actually be straight with her–she still hadn’t figured out exactly what it was that the book responded to when it added access to new chapters–but he seemed to be reaching the limits of this particularly line of questions. So instead, she asked. “So. Are you an angel?”
The directness of the question seemed to surprise him. For several long moments, he was silent. His voice seemed frozen in that half sad smile he’d taken on moments before. When he finally answered, his voice was softer than she’d ever heard–so soft that she could barely even make out his words.
“Not any more.”
It took several minutes before she was able to ask another question. Each time she would summon up the courage or come up with some variation on what she wanted to ask next, something would stop her. Just the raw emotion that he’d put into those three words made her hesitate, not to mention the fact that she couldn’t even begin to imagine what it was actually like to be something so very alien–and yet all too similar.
And then there was that bit about it not being possible to make more angels. She wasn’t sure what that meant–she made a mental note to ask Jenny if she’d gotten that far when she picked her up–but if it meant anything like what she expected he had ever reason to be sad. And here he was, sitting on a train with her only a day after he had quite likely saved her life. Only days after even before that he had changed it forever.
In the end, she settled for the safe route. “So why me then? Why did you give me the book.”
His smile turned real this time. “Don’t you remember when you first saw it?”
How could she forget? That thick black volume, so out of place with all of the books around it. Reaching out to take hold of it, only to feel an earthquake where none was. It falling to the floor, but with nowhere it could have been from. Leaving, only to find the book yet again.
It was strange. But that still didn’t answer her question.
He answered it for her though. “The book chose you.”
Not that that was a particularly helpful answer. A few days ago, she would have said it was outright impossible. But that word just didn’t have the weight it once had.
“How does that work?”
“Haven’t you figured it out yet?”
Andi had a few ideas, but she didn’t want to say it in case she was wrong. “No. What?”
“The book is demon-bound.”
That hadn’t been first on her list, but it certainly wasn’t far down. How else would it have been able to answer her questions almost as if it were alive–it was alive in a manner of speaking. It just didn’t have a Body or Soul of its own; rather using the book as its physical form.
“Okay, so the book chose me. But again, I have to ask the question. Why me?”
His smile widened. Whatever he had meant when he’d said ‘not any more’, he was clearly moving beyond it. For now…
“If I knew that, then don’t you think I would have told you.”
Andi didn’t even have to consider her response. “No. I don’t think you would have.”
He didn’t even try to deny it. “Fair enough. Truth be told though, I really don’t. I didn’t make the book. I don’t have near the knowledge that would take.”
“So far as I understand, the book teaches you how to be a sorcerer. But a full study of everything that could entail… That would take many lifetimes.”
Andi blinked. She knew that the book contained a wealth of information. Each time she had gotten to the end, there had been more there. But she couldn’t have known just how far down the rabbit whole went. She had expected a few dozen chapters, perhaps a few hundred or a thousand pages. A thick but not entirely unreasonable textbook length.
This… this sounded more like an entire library.
It was hard to believe. But again, not impossible.
“But you’re saying that the book should contain everything you would need to make another copy?”
He paused for a moment, then shrugged. “That, I do not know.”
“Why not? You’ve read it, haven’t you?”
The sad smile was back. “No.”
“Why not?” she asked before her mouth could catch up with her mind and the knowledge of how poor an idea that likely was.
“The book did not choose me.” His expression was carefully guarded, but even so she thought she could see the longing in that expression. More than anything it seemed that he wanted to have read the book. He just had never had the chance. And yet, he had passed it on to her.
“Okay,” she said, trying to buy herself time to think. “The book chose me. Yet, you must have set it in my path.”
“I left it at the bookstore. That much is true. After all, what better place to hide a book than among many of its own kind.” He had a point at that. “After that, it was just a matter of waiting. The book was designed to search out one with the potential to become a sorcerer and… educate them.”
“Wait, one who had the potential to become a sorcerer? You mean that not everyone can be a sorcerer?”
“Anyone can summon a demon,” he said. “But no. Not just everyone has the correct temperament to be come a sorcerer.”
“Frame of mind.”
“I know what temperament means. I wanted to know why that would matter when it came to summoning demons.”
He bowed his head. “A sorcerer has power. Power corrupts.”
Andi couldn’t help but finish the quote. “And absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
“Oh. I didn’t actually know who originally said it…”
“Good man. At least so far as old English Catholic families go.”
He sounded almost as if he’d met him. Andi was under the impression that the saying was a bit older than that. And although the man sitting beside her didn’t look particularly young, he wasn’t even showing much in the way of gray in her hair. He likely wasn’t more than in his 40s at worst.
Perhaps she had misunderstood. In either case, that was a question for another day. More importantly, “so what you’re saying is that I’m immune to corruption?” She kind of liked the sound of that.
“Not at all.” She didn’t so much like the sound of that. “You’re human. There isn’t a human alive who is completely immune to corruption…”
“But you just said…”
”…just those that are less likely to succumb to temptation. That’s all the book can measure.”
The full implications of that took a moment to filter through Andi’s mind. “Wait, you mean the book can read my mind?”
“Yes, exactly. It can apparently figure out things that the best psychologist of earth would give up an arm to be able to tell. How is that any different from reading my mind?”
He nodded. “It’s close. I’ll admit it. But really there are three possible levels of reading one’s mind.”
“Yes. Surface thoughts, deeper ideas, and core beliefs.”
“And the book can read which?”
“It can guess at the first and the last. Even among the best sorcerers, it’s not possible to do much more than that.”
“So when you say the book is looking for people that won’t abuse it…”
She didn’t even have to finish her sentence. “It guesses. As best it can, given limited information.”
“So what if it’s wrong?”
His face fell, but then evened out so quickly she couldn’t be entirely sure that she’d seen it in the first place. “Then you get things like the demon that attacked us yesterday.”
Andi didn’t know what to say to that. The demon that had attacked the train yesterday had been everything that she feared was possible when it came to summoning demons. Big enough to toss an entire train car about, ugly as sin, and not only willing but also able to terrorize anyone that it came across. The idea that that was the fallout of the book choosing poorly was certainly not the most cheerful of ideas she’d come across.
“You’re saying that there’s a rogue sorcerer after us?”
“What do you mean not exactly?”
“I mean that there’s a rogue sorcerer after you.”
Andi stared at him.
“The sorcerer doesn’t seem me as a threat…” As if to emphasize why the sorcerer may have had a good point, he waved his hand first in front of Andi’s face than through it. She was never going to get used to that. “You on the other hand–you have the book.”
“So he’s after the book?”
“Well yes. But that’s not all of it. He’ll also want whatever you’ve learned.”
“Shouldn’t he have gotten all of that already though? If whoever this he is had the book before me?”
“Like I said,” he replied. “It’s a big book. He couldn’t have had time to read it all.”
Andi let that sink in for a moment. “But whoever it is, they still had time to read a lot more than I did.”
“Almost certainly. The sorcerer in question had the book for years before I managed to get it back.”
“And how exactly did you manage that?”
“It’s a long story.”
As if to underscore his point, there was the sudden call on the intercom. “Approaching last stop.” She couldn’t believe it. It was an hour and a half at minimum, even without any significant delays.
She looked down at her watch.
Not nearly that much time should have gone by. She could clearly remember the conversations with the mysterious man and they wouldn’t have taken up a fraction of that time.
“Where did the time go?” she asked.
“Pardon?” the man answered. He honestly looked confused.
“We’re already at the south end of the train line. That shouldn’t be possible.”
“We couldn’t have been talking more than ten minutes.”
If anything, he looked even more confused by her assertion. “How do you figure?”
“You told me about angels, you told me about the book, and you told me about a rogue sorcerer that’s out there trying to kill me. That only took a few seconds to summarize. How much longer could the full conversation have taken.
His confusion was starting to fade, but the new look was worse if not better. Confusion was giving way to concern. “That’s not good.”
“What do you mean not good?”
Rather than answering her question, he asked her one of his own. “What is my name?”
Andi didn’t have much to think back about. She knew quite well that he’d never said. It was on her list of questions to ask when she had a chance, but she’d not actually got around to it. “I don’t know. You’ve never told me.”
In a blink of motion, he was standing in the aisle. She didn’t really notice him getting up, nothing more than a blur of motion. At first, her instincts were yelling at her to get up, to get ready to fight. She almost activated the ring before she realized that it wasn’t an attack–not yet at least–the train was just coming to a stop. He was getting ready to get off of the train.
“What does it mean?” she asked, standing as well. He didn’t look particularly violent just yet–at the very least, his arms were still the right lengths and not yet sharpened–so she was doing the best to dampen her own reactions.
“I… don’t know. Not yet. For now, you’re going to have to go. Your friend should be here shortly.”
The concerned look was back. “You called her a few stations back. Don’t you remember?”
“This isn’t good.”
“You’re telling me.” He was already walking towards the front of the car. “Don’t you even have a guess?”
“Yes,” he said. “Several of them.” He stopped by the doors in the middle of the car just as they were opening to let her out. She could see the couple from the top part of the train had disengaged and were heading down as well. “ None are good.”
“Well, what are we going to do about it?”
To her surprise, he smiled slightly at that. “You–you are going to do nothing. Not yet. Go home. Read more of your book.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to ask some questions.” He waved her forwards. By habit, she followed the suggestion. It was only after she was on the platform and turning around that she realized that he hadn’t followed her. She turned back to the car, just in time to see the doors closing again. She didn’t think that the cars were designed to allow that. They had to take time to switch to the other tracks. Everyone had to get off.
But apparently the rules didn’t apply to him.
“Wait,” she said, the doors nearly closed. “I still don’t know your name.”
The smile was back on his face as the doors slid shut. “Of course you do, even if you don’t remember it. My name is Percival. Percy for short.”
And then he was gone.
Jenny arrived not long after, only confirming that something all together strange had taken place. Andi was going to have to start getting used to this. The strange was becoming commonplace, the commonplace little more than a dream.
She didn’t see anything strange about the situation–to her, Andi had done exactly what they’d agreed upon. She’d gotten on the train, ridden it until the man–Percy–had shown up, and then called her. She wasn’t thrilled that she’d managed to make it quite so far south, but to her it wasn’t strange at all.
At least not until Andi mentioned the lost time.
She saw the strangeness a bit better than.
She didn’t have any ideas any better than Andi did about what might have happened–nothing in her reading suggested abilities that could mess with perception of time, although she was just as sure as Andi that there was far more to see than what either of them had read thus far.
When Andi mentioned the idea of angels and the division of Body, Mind, and Soul, Jenny just nodded matter of factly. She didn’t seem surprised at all. She must have read even more of the book than Andi had realized.
On the other hand, she wasn’t any more sure of what Percy might have been than Andi was. She agreed that whatever he was, it was a being of Mind or Soul rather than Body–since Andi could move right through him–yet if he was to be believed, then he wasn’t either angel or demon. That wasn’t something that she’d had chance to figure out yet, just what else was out there.
All of the ride back to Andi’s house, they talked. They talked about Percy and all he had said; they talked about what he had hinted at but which Andi had no direct memories of. All together, they didn’t end up with anything they hadn’t already known before–at least nothing that neither of them individually had known.
Really, Andi wasn’t quite sure what the point of going to talk with him at all had been. They’d learned nothing new and only gotten a pile more mysteries to solve instead. Now they knew that someone was after them, but not anything more than that. They knew that Percy was something strange, but not what. They knew that Andi had lost some significant amount of time–but not why or what she had lost. Not even Percy had known that.
It was maddening. Every answer led to two more questions. Every question led to even more.
And then they were home. It was late, so Andi offered Jenny a spot on her couch. It wasn’t the first time Jenny had stayed over and certainly wouldn’t be the last. This time around, she barely even nodded. She looked tired, but even more than that, she went straight to the book. She mumbled something about reading a bit before going to bed.
Andi watched her for a moment. She was still acting a bit strange–she had ever since they had dealt with the Morris-demon–and she didn’t want to push too much… But eventually she was going to have to. That was just something that friends did.
Still. That was a problem for tomorrow. No sense in worrying about it until then.
knock knock knock
Two days was two too many. She did not want to deal with this again.
Granted, this time she knew that it wasn’t Jenny. Jenny was still sleeping on her couch. She couldn’t remember anyone else that she’d invited over.
For a few seconds at least, she considered just ignoring it. Whoever it was could just come back later. Or better yet, they didn’t even have to. With any luck, it was a salesman or Jehovah’s Witness and they’d just go away entirely.
knock knock knock
She groaned, rolling her way out of bed. Giving the mining of the previous week, she thought that the universe owed her something.
Apparently the universe disagreed.
“Andi?” Jenny’s voice drifted back to her from the entryway. She hadn’t even considered that possibility. If she’d known Jenny would get the door, she would have just stayed in bed. “I think you should get out here.”
Andi swore again.
She was going to have words with the universe…
Still grumbling under her breath, she stepped out into entry way and froze…
There was a copy standing just inside of her door, in full uniform. He was a young man, probably even a year or two younger than her. He had a serious expression on his face when she came out, but smiled slightly at seeing her.
Despite the fact that the smile was likely just amusement at her coming out in her pajamas, miraculously it put her somewhat at ease. Or at least it did until he introduced himself.
“Good morning ma’am. My name is Officer Jon Williams. I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions.”
The way he said it made it clear that he was neither wondering nor asking. He was expecting answers and he wasn’t going to take no for an answer.
“Sure,” she said, trying to keep her voice calm and carefree. “What about?”
“Do you mind if we sit down?”
She wasn’t sure what to think about that. Did he have enough questions that this was going to take a while? Was he hoping to put her at ease? Was he just being polite?
Or was it nothing?
If she kept double guessing herself like this, she was going to drive herself mad…
“To start out with, your name is Andromeda Anastas, correct?”
Andi nodded. “Although I usually go by Andi.”
He smiled. “Andi it is then. And you are?” he said, turning to Jenny.
“Jennifer Kelly,” she answered. Her voice was clipped, although Andi doubted that Officer Williams would even noticed. She barely even did and she’d known her for years. Still, if she didn’t watch herself, she was likely to get the both of them in trouble.
“All right, Ms. Kelly. Thank you. I’m glad to see you here, since I believe that I have a question for the both of you.”
Andi and Jenny shared a look. Both of them? That didn’t sound good…
“Where were you yesterday afternoon, say around 3pm?”
Andi froze. She’d honestly forgotten about that. She shouldn’t have–they’d originally planning for this eventuality but the arrival of Mrs. Morris had put that part of their plan to rest. So instead of trying to mimic the demon on the train and soothing everyone’s emotions, they’d just gotten rid of the evidence as best they could.
For a brief moment, she couldn’t decide whether she should lie or just tell the truth. If she lied, there was easily the possibility that he already knew the answer and was just testing them. If she told the truth, she would just be confirming that they were on the scene–assuming of course that was why he was here in the first place.
Luckily Jenny saved her having to make that particular decision. “We were out and about, running a few errands.”
The officer nodded idly. He didn’t seem particularly interested in that bit of information. He just asked. “Specifically?”
Jenny looked over at Andi for help. Andi considered for a moment, but decided that while they should definitely tell the truth, a little white lie couldn’t hurt. “Well, we went running in the morning. Later in the day, we were down on the far south side of the train line.” He was nodding all of the while. “We shopped a bit too. At a bookstore…”
“Oh yeah?” he said. Immediately Andi’s heart sank. He knew. “And which bookstore was that?”
There was no point in lying. Not if he’d clued in so immediately when she’d said bookstore. “Caveat Emptor.” She gave him the rough address as well, just in case being helpful would help mitigate whatever circumstances that had brought him here in the first place.
Not that she was terribly hopeful just yet.
“Good. And when would you say that was?”
Andi honestly wasn’t sure. She’d been too busy dealing with demon-Morris and then later the real Morris to actually remember when exactly that had been. Jenny didn’t seem to know any better.
She turned back to the cop and shrugged. “Honestly, sir…” Politeness was even more in the forefront of her mind now that she knew he was here about the incident at the shop “I’m not actually sure. It didn’t seem important at the time.”
He nodded. “I get that a lot these days. It’s all those smart phones everywhere…”
Andi nodded, smiling, hoping that the was the proper response. Jenny went a step further and actually chuckled, although the sound was just a bit grating to Andi’s ears. She could only hope that the officer wouldn’t come to the same conclusion.
“In any case, you were there, so that’s the first question. Next, did you notice anything out of the ordinary while you were there?”
Andi and Jenny looked at one another once again. This time, they couldn’t possibly tell the truth. Not only was there the minor matter that Andi didn’t actually know if Jenny’s firearm was even legal in the first place–she couldn’t believe that she hadn’t gotten around to asking her about that yet. But even if it was, there was still the problem of having discharged it in an urban area. Even if it was justified, you still had to report the incident to the cops–and they certainly hadn’t done that.
Worse of all, there was no way that they could actually justify their actions in the first place. Andi and Jenny knew there was a stranger side to the world, but it was almost certain that the officer didn’t. And if they tried to tell him that they had fired off a firearm while fighting a demon… Well, at least it might amuse him. That was the best they could hope for.
No, they were going to have to lie.
Jenny must have come to the same conclusion at about the same time that Andi did. Turning back to the officer, she said. “Not anything in particular. The old lady working there–” She turned to Andi, “what was her name?”
“Mrs. Morris. She’s the owner.”
“Right, Mrs. Morris. She’s a bit odd, but what else would you expect of an older woman that owns a bookstore?”
Andi could tell that she was trying for charming, but her voice fell just shy. The officer nodded politely, but if Jenny had been going for anything more than that she didn’t get it. After a pause just on the edge of uncomfortable, Jenny continued. “Other than that, there were a few neat old books, but that’s about it. Nothing else.”
Andi couldn’t tell if he believed them or not. Regardless, his next question was even more problematic. “And Mrs. Morris didn’t mention anything about a disturbance? Gunfire? Sounds of fighting?”
Andi looked at Jenny once more, keeping her face carefully blank. Turning back, she said “No sir. She didn’t say much at all. She tried to help me find a book I was looking for, but she didn’t have it.”
“Yeah, she mentioned that.” His gaze was steadily on Andi, unchanging in intensity. She felt like he was trying to read her mind–And had a momentary moment of panic, thinking that if he too were a sorcerer that he might just be able to do that… Had they for sure ruled out that possibility in the book? Did Jenny know any more? Could she somehow ask? Was he reading her mind right now?
She mentally shook herself. If he was somehow reading her mind, well there was nothing she could do about it. Freaking out about it certainly wasn’t helping. And if he couldn’t–well then freaking out would do even less than nothing. All she could do was answer his questions as best she could, keeping the lying to a minimum, but editing out some of the more… problematic details.
She noticed that he was looking at her. He still wasn’t showing any emotion in particular, but she knew that if she didn’t say something soon he was going to grow suspicious–if he wasn’t already.
“So, would it surprise either of you to learn that Mrs. Morris was found dead?”