Andi couldn’t help herself. “Dead?” She’d seemed perfectly fine when they’d been there. Who could she be dead.
The officer watched her for a moment more. She realized belatedly that he had dropped that particular nugget on them precisely in order to elicit a reaction. Hopefully surprised was the correct response…
When she didn’t say anything else, the officer continued. “Dead. The neighbors called us at about 3:30 pm about a potential disturbance. They said that they’d heard someone screaming and then several gunshots. When we arrived shortly later, she was dead.”
Andi thought back. She had been telling the truth when she’d said that she didn’t remember exactly when they had been there, but she didn’t think that it had been quite that late. Surely this was after they’d talked with her.
“We definitely left before that,” she said, forgetting again that being completely honest with the cop–no matter how genuine he seemed thus far–was probably not the best idea. They had been there; they had fired off the gun; and they had killed someone–albeit a demon. Still, in the interest of staying out of jail–or a mental institution–discretion was the better part of valor. “The last I saw her, she was looking for a book for me, but she didn’t have quite the right thing.”
“This one?” he asked, holding out a thin volume bound in a dark leather.
Andi blinked. How could he possibly know that?
As if he had read her mind, he answered. “She was holding it when we found her.”
Andi looked slowly over at Jenny, their eyes meeting. She hadn’t seen the book, but surely she recognized the leather. In this lighting, it looked even more like Computational Demonology. She still couldn’t make out any threads though.
“You recognize it?”
She nodded silently. There was no point in lying now.
“Interesting. Why were you looking for it?”
“Like I said,” Andi replied. “I wasn’t. She didn’t actually have what I was looking for.”
“Then why did she think it was?”
“I don’t know.” She didn’t think it was any worse than a little white lie. She probably had gone off the similar binding and lack of obvious title, but other than that, the two didn’t seem particularly similar. She supposed that she’d never known now…
“That’s unfortunate,” he said, putting the book back into his bag. “That certainly would have answered one question for us.”
Again, Andi couldn’t help but ask “What’s that?”
“Why she thought it was so important. The way we found her…” His voice faded off and Andi could tell that he was remembering. Involuntarily, she found herself remembering the Morris-demon as her and Jenny took it apart. Human or not, that was not an experience she particularly wanted to repeat. “And all for a blank book.”
Andi kept her face carefully calm. She hadn’t known that this one had been blank as well. She clearly remembered when she’d first found Computational Demonology; it had been blank as well. Perhaps the two were more related than she’d thought at first…
“Well, back on topic,” he said. “Do you have any way of proving when you were at the shop? Anyone that might have seen you somewhere else around that time?”
Andi considered, but before she could think of anything, Jenny spoke up. “Excuse me officer, but are we suspects?”
Andi didn’t think that her attention could have snapped more quickly to attention if she had tried. The officer turned to her as well, albeit just a touch more slowly. He answered slowly as well. “Not just yet. Without more information, we haven’t charged anyone yet. But you were in the area.”
“And what if we do become suspects?” she said. Andi mentally yelled at her to shut up, but she just kept plowing ahead. “You aren’t going to be able to use anything you asked us here, are you?”
“Ma’am?” he asked.
“You haven’t read us our rights. Without that, the courts would throw your evidence.”
Andi thought she had a point but she absolutely wished that she’d chosen any other time to flaunt her knowledge of the law. She couldn’t possibly believe that antagonizing an officer was going to win them any favors.
“You would be quite correct,” he said though. To Andi’s surprised, he seemed more amused than anything. “Yet as I said, you aren’t suspects.”
“Then why all of the questions?”
“Because we had reports that you were in the area at roughly the right time.”
“Reports?” Jenny’s voice had taken on a razor’s edge that Andi did not care for, not one bit.
“The ice cream parlor across the street. One of the employees saw you go into the shop a little while after they heard gunfire. He remembered you–” He indicated Andi. “–from a previous visit.”
Andi had stopped by the little ice cream shop before after checking out Caveat Emptor, but it had been at least a few weeks. She honestly couldn’t remember the faces of anyone that worked there and was surprised that one of them had remembered her.
“But if you said that you saw Mrs. Morris alive after the gunshots were fired…” He let the unspoken implication hang there in the air. Andi kept her mouth shut and luckily Jenny did as well. Strictly speaking, they had, but she didn’t want to accidentally give away that they had been there the first time earlier as well.
“In any case, I think that’s all we need for now.” He stood without waiting for a reply from either of the women. “here’s my card.” Andi noted that he handed it to her rather than Jenny. Perhaps her outbreak hadn’t gone completely unremarked. “If you remember anything else, please. Let me know.”
“Of course,” Andi said, following him to the door. Jenny remained at the table, looking down at her hands.
She followed him out, shaking his hand at the door. He didn’t look as suspicious as she thought he could have, but she still wasn’t confident they were in the clear. Not yet. She had just gotten away with that entirely too easily.
She turned back to Jenny and saw that she still wasn’t looking up. She knew that there was a chance–however slim–that the officer was still right outside, possibly listening in on them, but she just couldn’t restrain herself any longer. “What was that about?”
Jenny was not herself. Andi had known her for years, but she’d never seen her quite so down as she was now. Even to her, her tongue was sharp and she didn’t seem to want to admit there was a problem.
After a while, Andi just gave up. She knew that she was going to have to help her eventually–that’s what friends were for after all–but until then Jenny was either going to have to keep down this route or change herself.
Being Sunday, Andi knew that she was supposed to go to church. She wasn’t great about attending, but given the events of the previous week, she thought that perhaps today was a good day to go.
She offered to take Jenny with her–although really it would have been the other way around considering that Jenny was the one with the car–but she turned her down flat. She instead opted to remain at Andi’s saying that she’d just do a bit of reading and they could talk about it later.
Andi wasn’t sure that she liked the idea of Jenny getting so far ahead in the book. She thought that it might have had something to do with the man on the train’s–Percy’s–warning… But she mentally chided herself for that. Jenny wouldn’t be like that. She was every bit as resistant to corruption as Andi was.
Or at least that’s what Andi told herself.
But she had to wonder.
As she approached her usual church, she had a momentary moment of panic.
What if–somehow–the church somehow knew that she’d been dealing with demons? Not the congregation or even the priest, but the church itself? There was that famous line in the bible about not suffering a witch to live, but in the back of her mind she remembered the potentially more accurate translation that she’d only heard one, in a theology class in college.
You must not allow a sorceress to live.
Rather than witch, some translations specifically used the word sorceress. She knew that it didn’t strictly speaking mean one that summoned demons–as not seemed to be the case–but rather dealt with those that cast harmful spells on others. But on the other hand, hadn’t that been exactly what she’d done? She hadn’t used her spells–summonings?–to hurt anyone, but strictly speaking that was exactly what they were designed for. One to burn away evidence of wrong doing, another to make her a more capable fighter.
For one long irrational moment, she stopped at the threshold. Deep in her soul, she knew that she was doomed. Perhaps the threshold would remain solid for her. Perhaps alarm bells would sound, altering all within to an evil-doer in their midst. Perhaps she would be struck down with a bolt from the heavens.
In the end, the priest was giving her a strange look, so she took a deep breath and stepped through the door.
She waited a second, two, three… nothing.
She sighed a deep breath of relief. The priest gave her an odd look, but she just smiled back at him. He smiled uncertainly back at her for a moment longer, and then finally turned to greet others of his flock.
If only the rest of her problems were so easily solved.
When she arrived back at home, she found Jenny asleep on the couch. The book was laying open in front of her. For a short while, Andi just watched her sleep, her chest rising and falling slowly and evenly. She looked so peaceful. Normally Andi wouldn’t have even thought of that as strange, but given how sharp she’d been the past few days, it was a welcome change.
Moving quietly so as not to wake her friend, she carefully extricate the book from her grasp. Her first implication was to drop the book off on the table and to take a nap herself. She hadn’t realized it until she saw her friend sleeping there, but she was exhausted. And once it came to the forefront of her mind, there was no changing it.
She couldn’t really imagine why that would be the case. It wasn’t like she’d done terribly much physically tiring. She had fought the demon–swinging that metal bar around harder than she’d ever done something of the sort in her life–but that entire fight had taken mere minutes, although at the time it had felt much longer.
No, there was something else afoot here.
She thought she remembered reading something in the book that hinted at this. There was a basic idea there of energy exchange–that anything a demon did had to be fueled somehow. The more basic an ability a demon had, the more of the ability that could be drawn directly from the environment with no one any the wiser.
But the more an advanced the ability, the more energy was necessary. It was possible to encode directly in the demon where the energy would come from–burning a candle, personal energy, living sacrifice; the sky was the limit. But she wasn’t entirely sure what would happen if you didn’t encode such an option? They hadn’t–perhaps she was paying for that now?
She barely made it into her bed–taking the book with her–before she collapsed. She fell face down onto her sheets. A moment after she hit the pillow, she was out.
The demon hurled itself at her, huge and black and terrible.
It was too dark for her to get a perfect idea for exactly how big it was, but the torso sized tendrils swinging at her face gave her a pretty good idea.
For the moment, she was holding her own, but she could feel herself tiring. There was only so long she could keep swinging a metal rod around like that, even with demon boosted strength via her steel ring.
She was only distracted for a moment, thinking about her ring, but the demon took full advantage of that moment. With a solid thud that seemed to come out of nowhere, she was knocked completely off of her feet and thrown what felt a dozen feet to one side.
She flew through the darkness, skidding along the ground when she landed. The ground felt oddly smooth, but she didn’t have long to think about it. Before she’d even stopped moving, the demon was there again, tendrils whipping out of the darkness.
She barely brought up the metal rod in time.
better with a sword
The thought seemed to come from within herself, but oddly it didn’t seem to be her own voice. It was close, there was no doubt about that, but something just seemed off.
And then there was the advice–a sword? What in the world would she do with a sword? The closest she’d ever come would have been some of the larger knives in her kitchen, she’d never even touched a sword. So how would that help?
She couldn’t help the thought though and nearly suffered another blow just in that fraction of a second she was distracted.
In the last moment, she rolled out of the way though, using that same momentum to hoist herself back to her feet. She didn’t think she would have been able to pull that move off without the demon ring; at the very least she wouldn’t have been nearly as graceful.
Back on her feet, she turned to face the demon. She may not have a sword, but she’d dealt with the last demon with nothing more than she had now, hadn’t she?
Well, she’d had Jenny and her gun, but that was fine. The metal rod should be enough. She began to advance towards the demon.
As she moved forward, the darkness seemed to move all around her. There were tendrils everywhere, but she was still managing to fight them off. Time and time again, she had to pause for a moment in order to knock a blow away from herself, but nevertheless she kept moving. Yet no matter how she advance,d she never quite seemed to find the core of the beast.
Where was it?
Further and further, she advanced into the black, the tendrils becoming more common. Twice, she didn’t quite manage to stop the blows. Luckily, each time was a glancing blow, but at the size of that thing even a glancing blow was enough to send her stumbling for a half dozen steps or more. If she got hit full on again?
She didn’t think she wanted to find out.
“Come on,” she cried out, half out of frustration. “Show yourself, demon!”
The demon of course said nothing. It had been eerily quite the entire time she had been fighting it with little more than the swish of tendrils through the air and the occasional crackling thud when one of them struck the ground. Truth be told, everything around her was unnaturally quiet. It felt as if she had cotton balls in her ears.
“I can do this all day.” It was a bluff–she was nearly worn out as it was–but she just had to believe that the demon wouldn’t pick up on it.
Another tendril whipped out of the darkness, catching her for a third time and shoving her forward. She pitched forward, running a full dozen steps tilted entirely too far forward before she managed to gain some manner of control. When she did though, she got her first glance of the beast that lay before her.
It was huge.
Her imagination had been running on overload for what felt like forever in this darkness, trying to calculate just how big the thing had to be to have that many tendrils even as the most minor distraction could cost her dearly. Yet even her worse suspicions couldn’t begin to compare to how large it actually was. It seemed as large as a house, shifting in the darkness just out of view.
“I’m coming for you.”
She hurled herself forward.
As she ran, the tendrils became even thicker. She wouldn’t have thought it possible, but now she couldn’t even hope to keep all of them off of her. One after another caught her, all pushing her forward. Half stumbling and half running, she careened on.
There it was. Solidly two stories tall and wide enough that it seemed to fade into the darkness on either side, it froze her in her tracks.
Who had she been kidding?
She had taken down the Morris-demon, but that had been roughly human sized… And she’d had help.
This thing was impossible.
Why did she think she could fight it?
Worse yet, stopped as she was she made for an easy target for the demonic tendrils. First one, then three, then more all latched on, grabbing her rather than knocking her away. She barely even had time to register their presence before the metal rod was jerked violently out of her hands.
“Ow!” she cried. The bar had pulled some of her skin with it when it went.
She had bigger problems though.
She couldn’t even count the number of tendrils on her now, they were flowing over one another and putting just enough pressure on her that she couldn’t move, but also not quite enough to hurt her. Only her face remained uncovered.
She briefly considered biting the tendrils nearest her face, but one look at that oily black skin flexing just under her chin disabused her of that notion. Perhaps if she had no other choice… But for the moment, she wasn’t quite that desperate. Heck, if she really looked at it, she was slightly better off than she had been just before.
With a sudden jolt, the tendrils lifted her off the ground and effortlessly it seemed pulled her through the air.
Her mind immediately jumped to scenes of a giant maw, rimmed with viciously sharp teeth, ready to eat her whole.
Perhaps she was actually that desperate.
She bent down slowly, opening her mouth. This was going to suck.
She froze, her teeth mere inches from their target.
She knew that voice.
She looked up, right into the very heart of the beast.
It wasn’t a mouth ringed with razor sharp fangs after all.
It was worse. Oh so much worse.
Right in the middle of that inky black mass, there was a human face. The blackness puffed out all around it, threatening to consume it completely.
Nevertheless, the face was still entirely too visible.
If she recognized that voice, she knew the face even better…
It was Jenny.
The very moment she recognized her, the tendrils started to tighten. They’d never actually hurt her before that moment, but they were starting to strain now. She was already feeling short of breath and it was only a matter of
“Oh Andi, Andi, what are we going to do…”
It was definitely Jenny’s voice, but that singsong tone was one Andi had never heard her friend use before in all those years they’d known each other.
“Oh Andi, Andi, I’m going to cru-ush you.”
“Jenny…” She barely had the air left to croak even that one word, but she tried. She couldn’t even make out her own voice, but that was all she had…
“Oh Andi, Andi, what are we going to do…”
crack The pain was blinding. She’d snapped a rib once before, but this was worse, oh so much worse. crack This was the sound of multiple ribs all cracking at once.
Demon-Jenny leaned in. Either that or she lifted Andi up to meet her; the lack of oxygen was starting to mess with Andi’s brain. Leaning in, she whispered. “Oh Andi, Andi, I’m going to cru-ush you.”
The blackness swooped in from all around.
Andi sat bolt upright in bed, gasping for breath.
At first, she couldn’t pull in the air–any air–her lungs just weren’t responding.
She gulped breath after breath, but nothing seemed to be filling in, nothing was working.
Panicking, she wrapped herself on her chest with a closed fist, hoping she could startle herself into breathing.
She felt as much as saw the blackness closing in around her once again.
Then, with no rhyme or reason why, the weight lifted as if nothing had ever happened. From one moment to the next, she went from strangled to breathing.
She greedily gulped in air, the darkness fleeing only to be replaced by brilliant stars right in front of her eyes.
She knew that wasn’t a good sigh, but she couldn’t make herself care.
Gulp after gulp, breath after breath, she took in as much as she could, breathing and breathing…
What felt like hours later, she finally began to calm down. Moments later, she started to seize up again–she literally felt her throat contracting–and she panicked.
not again not again not again
She slammed her eyes shut, trying to will herself calm, but nothing helped. Nothing helped.
Then just as suddenly, she could breath again. Again, she gasped air.
For what felt like ages, much the same processes repeated itself over and over again. Just when she thought she was fine… Her lungs would size and her throat would close. She’d panic–for a shorter duration each time, although that was little comfort within each attack–and then she’d calm. Panic. And calm.
Finally, the attacks seemed to have ceased entirely. For ten long minutes, she waited in bed, not daring to move and barely even daring to breath for fear of triggering another attack.
But no. It seemed to all be over.
She couldn’t believe it.
She’d heard of panic attacks before, although she’d been so lucky to have never experienced anything of the sort before.
At least, not until today.
And it had come from nowhere.
Sure, that had been quite the nightmare but she’d had nightmares before. Sure, she couldn’t think of any time she could remember her dreams quite so vividly–but certainly she’d had ones just as bad…
She couldn’t quite wrap her mind around what it could have meant either.
Jenny as a demon?
Her, fighting against the Jenny-demon?
Obviously, they’d had one hell of a day. But the entire time, they’d been on the same side. She’d been a sympathetic ear early in the morning and she’d quite likely saved her life during the Morris-demon’s attack. Sure, she could probably have handled the interrogation with the cop better, but that was hardly something worth worrying about. Most anyone could related negatively to an interrogation like that.
Was her subconscious trying to tell her something?
Did she need need to tell her subconscious to just go and shove it?
When she finally worked up the courage to get herself out of bed, it was already well into the evening. She’d fallen asleep late in the day and by rights she could have slept through the night–if not for the demon dream.
Wandering out into the common room, she expected to either see Jenny still sleeping there on the couch or reading the book. She’d really taken a liking to that book, even more than Andi had.
What she didn’t expect to see was neither Jenny nor book.
The couch was obviously slept upon–Jenny had never been particularly good at cleaning up after herself. What she couldn’t say though was just how long ago she’d left. She reached over and felt the couch, but it was cool. Long enough ago for her body heat to dissipate then.
“Jenny?” She wasn’t actually expecting an answer, but it seemed right to at least try.
“Jenny?” She tried again, a little louder. She started to walk towards the front of her apartment. The only rooms she hadn’t seen thus far were the kitchen and the bathroom. She could see most of the kitchen through the serving offset between that and the dining room, but not the far corner.
Yet Jenny wasn’t there either. Nor was she in the bathroom. In the span of a few hours, she had completely disappeared.
And she appeared to have taken the book with her.
What was this? Was her dream coming true already? Was this what Percy had warned her of? Was Jenny one of those that couldn’t necessarily be trusted with the knowledge of becoming a sorcerer?
“Penny for your thoughts.”
Andi jerked around, crouching instinctively into a defense stance. She only just stopped herself from activating the ring and throwing a punch that could have decked a normal human being.
“Jeeze,” Jenny said. She was holding the book to her chest and had a wide eyed look on her face. “Wake up on the wrong side of the bed?”
“I…” Andi couldn’t finish. How do you tell your best friend of years that your first thought upon waking was that she had betrayed you.
You don’t, Andi decided. “Find anything interesting?” She gestured at the book.
Jenny paused for a moment before answering, but if she was particularly perturbed by Andi’s obviously avoiding the question she didn’t show it. Instead, she said. “A few things. One thing at least that would have come in handy earlier.”
“Oh yeah?” In an effort to at least mask her unease, Andi took a seat at her dining room table. The effect was spoiled somewhat when she immediately stood back up, heading to the kitchen for a glass of water.
“Yeah,” Jenny said, taking a seat across from the one Andi had recently vacated. “Could you get me a glass as well?”
Andi made what she hoped was an affirmative sound and busied herself cleaning out a pair of glasses.
“It turns out there’s an entire section in her on manipulating time.”
The glass Andi was washing slipped out of her hands, luckily falling into the sink rather than onto the floor. It still made quite the racket though, the sound of glass on metal ringing in her ears.
“Yeah, that’s about what I thought.”
Andi picked up the glass and filled it.
“It’s amazing what all these things can do. I’m beginning to think that this book may well be endless.”
“What do you mean?” Andi asked, carrying over the glasses and finally finding her voice. She hadn’t passed along the entirety of the conversation with Percy, leaving out both just how much there actually was in the book as well as the possibility that not everyone was a good choice to become a sorcerer. If she even suspected that Andi was considering that she may be in that group…
“Well, every time I finish a chapter, there’s another one to read. Honestly, I’ve lost track of how many new chapters its shown me.”
“Can I see?”
For a moment, Andi had the irrational feat that she would refuse, that she would take the book for her own. But her fears were not. She slid it across the table completely without hesitation.
Andi flipped open the book, turning directly to the table of contents. Or rather, to the first page of the table of contents. Then the second. Then the third.
Jenny hadn’t been kidding. Andi couldn’t believe how much she had covered just since the previous day. She was actually more than a bit jealous; it was far more than she had read, more even than what she knew based on what Andi had shared with her when they did their pared summoning.
She saw the chapter of interest, it was second from the end.
On the demonic manipulation of temporal dynamics